Business ethics has become a serious subject of discussion the world over because of the rather intricate complexities attached to it. There are so many different facets to business related ethical problems that everyday something new emerges that needs to be tackled in the light of current legal structure or philosophical framework. The case of Patricia Dunn from HP might also sound like one of those complicated cases of ethics that need to be studied closely to reach a more reasonable solution. This case also highlighted the issue of pretexting which is strictly prohibited under California state law. Many people who had no way of knowing what pretexting meant learned about this ethical issue and hence something new was learned during the hearing of the case. We must understand that while each new major business ethics case might seem more complicated than the last one or even unique in some respects, the fact remains that each case brings us closer to reaching an ideal ethical environment for doing business in today's highly globalized world.
The case outline:
Patricia Dunn knew someone was leaking important company information and she decided to find out who was it. She hired an investigator who posed as HP director or a journalist to get information. It was found and Dunn was made to resign. Was it correct to ask her to resign even though she had company's best interest at heart? Let us discuss this according to deontological and utilitarian framework. We shall also see why this case had legal repercussion because of the practice of pretexting used in the case. We shall discuss what is pretexting and how California law strictly prohibits it.
Deontology says that it is the action itself that matters and not the consequences. So even if the consequences are good, action can still be considered wrong if it was wrong according to the universal laws. For example lying is wrong, even if it helped in saving someone's life. Here we see that Patricia Dunn had everyone's well being at heart but she made a mistake by not taking the top directors into confidence. She decided to take action on her own and the person posed as director and journalist to root out information. While the action could lead to some good solid information, the method chosen to exact the same was not ethical. Dunn could have contacted other important members and sought their approval or she could simply blow the whistle about it without naming anyone. It is more critical to contact someone directly and tell them what is happening, instead of sneaking around the place looking for information. This was something downright naive to put it mildly…."the California attorney general calls "colossally stupid," no matter how well intentioned, and may well result in criminal charges." (Kaplan, Scandal at HP). So the action should be properly discussed to understand how it became unethical and how it completely blew off the ethical facade of a huge company. No one is allowed to pose as a director asking for his own records or pose as a journalist unless there is clear understanding among top officials that this can be done and it is allowed by company rules.
Deontological view makes it easier to identify a wrong action and to separate it effectively from heaps of confusing views. It says that as long as the action itself was wrong, it wouldn't matter what the intentions were or what consequences emerged. Keeping this view in mind, we can see why what Patricia Dunn did was considered punishable by HP board members. No one is above law and hence no matter how saintly the person claims to be, the fact remains that if wrongful means were used to extract information than Dunn's actions were definitely punishable.
Compared to Deontological view, Utilitarian view is generally a little more complex. It doesn't give a straight yes or no answer to the question of ethical dilemmas but urges the decision-makers to see if the action was meant to enhance the well-being of the majority which is actually easier said than done. According to utilitarian view, it is the end result that matters. If an action leads to the happiness of maximum number of people then that action is good and ethical. Here we notice that Patricia Dunn did the right thing according to Utilitarian view. She was looking out for the people in her company and wanted them to know that someone…