A policy that forbids any employee capable of reproducing from working with lead is a policy that interferes with the employees' freedom of choice. Many women viewed Johnson Controls' policy regarding fetal protection as another way to exclude women from the workplace. Johnson Controls refused to hire any women who could not prove that they could not get pregnant and there were no exceptions. In 1990, only twelve (12) women worked at the Johnson factory in Bennington, Vermont. The reason why so few women work at this facility was because of Johnson Controls' fetal protection policy. Women who worked for Johnson Controls felt that they were telling the world that they were sterile.

Johnson Controls made lead automobile batteries for Sears, Goodyear, and others. Inside the plant the air contained tiny toxic particles of lead and lead oxide. Scientific studies revealed that lead could lead to damage of the brain, retardation, miscarriages, damage to the central nervous system, and other disorders of a fetus. The toxic lead particles and lead oxide can stay in the bloodstream for a considerable amount of time, but according to Johnson Controls, the levels of lead at their plants was low enough for adults, but too high for children and fetuses.

Therefore, even if a woman that worked for Johnson Controls found out that she was pregnant and left the job, the lead would still be in her bloodstream long enough to possibly harm the fetus. Johnson Controls's tance "was protecting the health of unborn children"9. Johnson Controls' position was in line with the National Centers for Disease Control's recommendation that "women of childbearing age be excluded from jobs involving significant lead exposure"1. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) holds every company / organization responsible for reducing hazards in their workplace. On this basis, other companies, such as General Motors, Allied Chemical, and B.F. Goodrich joined Johnson Controls in adopting fetus protection policies.

These policies included working conditions that these companies believed to be hazardous to the potential offspring of women. The United States Court of Appeals judged Johnson Controls' policy to be "reasonably necessary to the industrial safety-based concern of protecting the unborn child from lead exposure"2. In this decision, the United States Court of Appeals in my opinion was sending a message that they believed women were not capable of making the right decision. The unions contended that this "policy discriminates against women, jeopardizing their hard-won gains in male-dominated industries"3. Women advocates believed that policies like Johnson Controls and others "not only challenged a woman's right to control her fetus but to control her unfertilized eggs"4.

Isabelle Kant Piz ler, director of women's rights at the American Civil Liberties Union said, "since time immemorial, the excuse for keeping women in their place has been because of their role in producing the next generation "5. The American Civil Liberties Union argued in court, "since no activity is risk-free, deference to an employer's analysis of fetal risk could limit women's participation in nearly every area of economic life"6. A woman has a right to make her own choice where to work or anything else. If a woman accepts the personal responsibility to work at Johnson Controls with the knowledge of the chemical and its dangers, she also accepts the personal responsibility for anything that could possibly happen to her offspring. There are many reasons why a person might work a dangerous job, (i.e. the pay in their mind out ways the risk); regardless of the reason, it should be their choice. I do not believe the policy that Johnson Controls instituted to be fair to employees who are fertile but plan to have no children.

The reason that I take this stance is because whether you are fertile or not, it should be a person's own choice whether or not to work in a harmful working environment. Evidence shows that women are not the only the ones that were affected by the tiny toxic particles and lead oxide. "In March 1991 the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the fetal protection policy at Johnson Controls violated the Civil Rights act of 1964, which prohibited sex discrimination in employment. Pointing to evidence that lead affects sperm and can thus harm the offspring of men exposed to it at the time of conception"7. Johnson Controls' fetal protection policy is an invasion of privacy. Potential employees should be made aware of the possible dangers when working with lead at the initial job interview.

The employer has no right to ask whether or not they are thinking about having a child. Johnson Controls should be looking for a way that they can make the working environment safe for both men and women to work. Joseph Kinney, executive director of the National Safe Workplace Institute said", the ideal thing is to regulate lead out of the workplace and any other toxin that poses fetal damage"8. Johnson Controls is an example of a company that is willing to risk the lives of its employees to make a profit. Johnson Controls has a moral and ethical obligation to its employees to control and limit the risk involved when working with lead. Both men and women run a risk of passing lead on to the unfertilized ovum.

Johnson Controls is controlling who is subjected to the lead purely for monetary reasons. Johnson Controls chooses to employ men because it minimizes the amount of times they will be sued. It is a numbers game. Johnson Controls is aware of the risk of working with lead, weighed their options and chose the path that will cost them the least in court.

Men because of lead related injuries and women because of unfairly hiring practices will sue Johnson Controls. Johnson Controls is practicing discrimination. By employing women, even after informing them of the dangers of working with lead, would most likely result in a higher number of lawsuits. Johnson Controls would want you to believe, that it has an obligation to the parties that cannot participate in the woman's decision - namely, the unfertilized ovum and the fetus"10. However, the company has an obligation to its stockholders and that obligation accompanied by expected lawsuits creates the climate where this type of discrimination can exist.


Work Cited 1 Shaw, W. (1999).
Business Ethics. Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, California, pg. 270.2 Shaw, W. (1999).
Business Ethics. Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, California, pg. 271.3 Shaw, W. (1999).
Business Ethics. Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, California, pg. 271.4 Shaw, W. (1999).
Business Ethics. Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, California, pg. 271.5 Shaw, W. (1999).
Business Ethics. Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, California, pg. 271.6 Shaw, W. (1999).
Business Ethics. Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, California, pg. 271.7 Shaw, W. (1999).
Business Ethics. Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, California, pg. 272.8 Shaw, W. (1999).
Business Ethics. Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, California, pg. 272.9 Shaw, W. (1999).
Business Ethics. Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, California, pg. 270.10 Shaw, W. (1999).