A. Relevant Dates and Facts a. 1973 - Paul Cronan hired by New England Telephone (NET) straight from high school. He began working as a file clerk. b. 1983 - Cronan was promoted to Service Technician.
c. January to June 1985 - Cronan was ill at various times, having symptoms of AIDS-related complex (ARC). d. June 1985 - Cronan was denied permission to leave work for a medical appointment by his supervisor, Charles O'Brian. O'Brian had given permission on two other occasions, but refused this third time unless Cronan revealed the reason for the appointment.
Cronan told O'Brian of his condition only after O'Brian promised the information would be held in confidence. O'Brian excused Cronan for his medical appointment. The next day, Cronan was required to see a company doctor who examined him for 10 minutes. Several days after the appointment, a co-worker phoned Cronan to say that she had heard Cronan was infected with AIDS. e.
June 10, 1985 - Cronan began receiving departmental sickness benefits after phoning his supervisor and requesting medical leave. One week later, Cronan began receiving company paid illness benefits. f. June 21, 1985 - Cronan's personal physician provided a medical certificate stating that Cronan was disabled for 3 months. This certificate was renewed and extended for one year.
g. During the summer of Cronan's absence, graffiti was written on the bathroom walls at work. h. August 1985 - NET department heads from Personnel, Labor Relations, and Medical began meeting to talk about the potential impact of AIDS on the company and its workforce. O'Brian is replaced by Griffin as Cronan's supervisor.
i. September 13, 1985 - Cronan diagnosed with AIDS. j. September 16, 1985 - NET announces new corporate AIDS policy. k. December 1985 - Cronan, with the help of the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, files a lawsuit in state court against NET.
He charges that NET violated state privacy laws and discrimination. l. January 1986 - NET tries to have the case moved to federal court. m. June 10, 1986 - Cronan's illness benefits run out and NET puts him on disability which equals 50% of his wages. n.
October 16, 1986 - Cronan and NET reach an out of court settlement where by Cronan is able to return to work and he receives a transfer. B. Critical Issuesa. Privacy - Cronan's right to privacy may have been violated when his supervisor revealed his medical information to management other than O'Brian's immediate supervisor. b.
Discrimination - Cronan may have been discriminated against by his dismissal when his medical benefits had run their course. c. Sexual Harassment - Slogans were written on the bathroom stall walls during his medical leave that made Cronan fear for his personal safety upon his return to work. d. Disability - AIDS was not considered a disability in 1985, but we are considering it here for our purposes. Cronan had a debilitating disease in AIDS and should have had accommodations afforded him with respect to the American with Disabilities Act of 1990.
C. Laws and Legal Principles a. Privacy - Massachusetts General Law states "A person shall have a right against unreasonable, substantial or serious interference with his privacy." b. Discrimination - The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII -- Equal Employment Opportunity, Section 703: i. It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer: 1. to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or 2.
to limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. c. Sexual Harassment - "Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment." d. Disability - "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual." D. Observations a. Privacy - Cronan had a reasonable expectation that his medical condition would remain private, even after divulging it to O'Brian, his supervisor.
b. Discrimination - As a gay man, Cronan may have felt he was being treated differently than others. While not specifically covered in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he may have been treated differently than another employee with a different medical condition. c. Sexual Harassment - Due to the stigma of AIDS in the 1980 s and the other employees reaction to Cronan's having the disease, he does have a case. Cronan reported feeling well enough to return to work in August of 1985, but the rumors of slogans on the bathroom stalls and the fear of bodily harm kept him away when his request for a transfer went unanswered.
d. Disability - While AIDS can be a disabling disease, Cronan's abilities were not documented to be diminished by his case. Yes, he was hospitalized during his medical leave, but there is no evidence that his abilities were permanently diminished during the term of the case. E. Conclusions a. Privacy - NET clearly was negligent in not keeping Cronan's medical condition a private matter between only those at NET who needed to know and Cronan.
In fact, he explained his medical condition to O'Brian only after extracting a promise of confidentiality. NET's own policy, exhibit 4, gives Cronan a reasonable expectation that the information he gave to his supervisor would be held in confidence. In this case, NET is in violation of the General Law of Massachusetts, Chapter 214, Section 1 B. b. Discrimination - While it appears that Cronan was treated differently and subjected to unusual interpretations of NET's policies, He was not discriminated against.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not provide for sexual orientation as a class. Therefore NET has not violated Cronan's civil rights in this case. c. Sexual Harassment - Based onthe threats of lynching and the graffiti in the barth room stalls, sexual harassment did take place and NET is to be held liable for not providing a safe work environment for Cronan.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, section 703 provides the definition and it has clearly been met in this case. NET is also liable for the actions of its employees. d. Disability - AIDS can be a very disabling disease. During ther period of the case, June 1985 through October 1986, Cronan was hospitalized several time while on medical leave. NET made provisions available to Cronan for this extended medical leave and provide the medical care he needed during his absence from the job.
In this manner, Cronan was not discriminated against. The larger issue comes from the American Disabilities Act of 1990. The ADA has requirements of confidentiality for medical records which were clearly violated in Cronan's case. NET has a responsibility to compensate Cronan for its here. Ethical Analysis A. Ethical Issuesa.
Privacy - NET had an ethical responsibility to keep the medical information Cronan provided confidential. b. Harassment - NET has an ethical responsibility to provide a work environment that allows all workers to do their job without fear for their personal safety. c. Education - NET provided two doctors for discussions with line employees regarding the fact surrounding AIDS.
This discussion only occurred at the time of settlement. d. Communication - NET adopted an AIDS policy in September 1985. This information was not publicly disseminated to all employees, but only to key management. They were ethically bound to make all employees aware of any changes to company policy and employees are ethically bound to follow said policies. B.
Evidencea. Privacy - The fact that line employees found out about Cronan's ACR/AIDS points directly to managements inability to keep Cronan's conversation regarding his medical condition confidential as required by law and company policy. Harassment - The lynching threats, writings on bathroom stalls and fly ers are all illustrations of poor and unethical behavior by some employees of NET. While it may be all 'talk', it still is an unacceptable behavior for adults in a professional environment. c. Education - As a large company, NET needs to have an educational system in place to teach all employees their responsibilities within the company and provide an avenue to introduce new policies and information.
One meeting with two medical doctors a week before Cronan's return to the job is not enough time for employees to learn and understand the complexities of AIDS. d. Communication - NET adopted an AIDS policy in September of 1985 as a result of Cronan's situation. They have an obligation to make all employees aware of the new policy to ensure its fair implementation. It was only communicated to senior management and a few key middle managers. C.
Assumptions a. NET held a meeting with department heads from Personnel, Labor Relations and Medical in August of 1985, so there is an assumption that when they developed an AIDS policy, it was incorporated into an existing document dealing with company policies. b. This document of company policies was available to all employees and was kept up to date by the various departments. c. This document would stipulate the requirements for employee privacy and their rights under company policy and would comply with the law.
d. NET would take action against any employees known to have been involved in any form of harassment of a fellow employee. D. Ethical Alternatives a. Privacy - There are no real alternatives for the of keeping an employee's medical records confidential. The laws of Massachusetts are clear on this point.
b. Harassment - Disciplining workers know to have been involved in harassment is the key step, but there are further steps NET could take to ensure a more comfortable work place. i. Make accommodations to ease Cronan back into the work flow.
Coworkers need time to adjust to the information and situation as does Cronan. ii. c. Education - There is plenty of opportunity for improvement here. NET should take the opportunity to have meeting with all it employees to keep them apprised of changes in company policies and other topics that may affect job performance, company financial health, or any other topics deemed important by management. These short meetings enhance a message delivered by email or memo as there is an opportunity for questions to be raised.
d. Communication - The same method of delivery listed above will vastly help NET communicate with all employees, but most importantly, NET needs to make any changes in company policy widely known to all relevant employee groups. E. Judgments and Evidencea. Privacy - In the early 1980 s, AIDS was still a new and unknown disease.
Very few companies had yet to deal with it from a corporate point of view. There was still no excuse for the company's management system to break the confidentiality of Cronan's medical situation. This and other information covered by NET's Privacy Statement, see exhibit 4, should be held with the strictest of confidence and those involved with 'leaking's would be severely reprimanded or dismissed. b. Harassment - The line management is responsible for allowing the harassment to occur. By allowing harassment to continue in Cronan's absence, they were just as guilty as those committing the acts.
Had they kept Cronan's disease in confidence, these actions, in all likelihood, would not have happened. Beyond this fact, employees involved in the harassment, if identifiable, should be dealt with in a similar manner as above and if warranted, legal action taken. c. Communication and Education - NET could have easily reduced the fears and anxieties surround Cronan's situation by being more proactive in their approach to AIDS.
As line employees working out in the public, NET could have had every employee take a CPR/First Aid program. This education would help them better understand what they were facing. In addition to the public service types of classes, having departmental meeting regarding changes to corporate policy manuals and operational procedures would keep employees informed and provide a platform for fears and concerns to be aired. Dealing with issues in this format would allow management to gather ideas for which topics need additional discussion and experts to answer questions, concerns and fears. NET has an obligation to keep the workplace safe for all employees. If communication and education is successful, they must take other steps to ensure an environment that provides for the safety of all employees.
That may mean moving workers around to give them positions to accommodate their physical abilities or where their physical abilities will not have a detrimental effect on other employees.