Walleteer Accounting requires its 14 employees to maintain “walleteer.com” email accounts and requires employees to use these accounts when using email to conduct business. The firm also uses the “walleteer.com” email accounts to send official office memorandums and information updates to the employees. In addition, a daily news update is sent out each morning.
Martin-Green, the head of “tech” support, is in charge of sending out the news updates. He often includes a joke under the heading “On The Lighter Side.” Green is a physically disabled military veteran. Here is a typical joke sent by Green to all the employees:
A young man wanted to get his wife something nice for their first wedding anniversary. So, he decides to buy her a cell phone. She is all excited and she loves her phone. He explains to her all the features on the phone.
The next day the wife goes shopping and to the beauty parlor. Her phone rings and it’s her husband. “Hi hon,” he says, “How do you like your new phone?”
“I just love it, it’s so small and your voice is clear as a bell. But there’s one thing I don’t understand. How did you know I was at the beauty parlor?”
Walleteer hires Sarah Carter as an accountant. After two months on the job, she sends an email to her supervisor, Frank Lambert (head of the accounting department), stating that it bothers her that most of the jokes included in the daily news are in some way negative towards women. In response, Lambert asks Green to stop including jokes in the daily news email. When Green asks why, Lambert explains that Carter has complained. “Wise up and play nice,” Lambert tells Green. Although Green does not report to Lambert, Green stops sending jokes in the daily update.
Several days later, Sarah Carter receives two emails featuring “blonde jokes.” (These jokes characteristically assume that blonde women are not intelligent.) The email is sent from a non-company email address (email@example.com). Carter has blonde hair. The emails disturb her. She asks two co-workers if they have received similar emails. They have not.
Not knowing how to do so herself, Sarah Carter asks Martin Green to help her filter out email messages from this address. He tells her that he will do so, but more messages arrive over the next two days. She asks him again, and he shows her how to use the filter on their email software to avoid seeing an email from any particular address. She sets the filter so she no longer sees anything from firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next day, she gets a highly insulting “blonde” joke in her email. However, this time it is sent from a different non-company email address. She uses the software to block out all email from that address. The next day, she is surprised to receive two more insulting jokes, sent from yet a third email address. It occurs to her that she is being targeted by someone who can see what she does with her computer, and so knows when to use a new email address to avoid her “junk” filter. As their technology manager, Green might have access to this information. She also sees that the most recent emails were sent after work hours started, while Green was in the building and working. She immediately talks to Lambert. They agree that Green is probably the source of the emails. Carter asks Lambert to get someone to look at Green’s computer in order to see if he is sending the emails. Lambert refuses. He says that Green is a veteran. “A lot of guys in this town are veterans, and those people stick together,” he tells her. “I’m not going to go after Green and then have him bad-mouth us around town,” Carter asks Lambert if he has ever received anonymous insulting emails at the office. He admits that this has never happened to him.
Use the assigned readings (including the Rawls reading, with emphasis on the 2nd principle) as the basis for a moral evaluation of how Lambert handled the situation. (If you read Title VII, you’ll see that it does not legally apply to many small businesses. However, I am not asking you for a legal evaluation. You might, or might not, think that the size of a business has nothing to do with whether Lambert’s handling of the situation was the morally right thing.)
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