According to the facts in the Harvard Business School Case: Paul Cronan and New England Telephone Company (A), Paul Cronan was discriminated against by New England Telephone (NET) when supervisors and co-workers learned that he had AIDs related complex (ARC). Paul had been with the company for over a decade and prior to his most recent position as a technician in South Boston, there is not an indication that he had missed a significant amount of work.
However, in the eighteen months since he moved to the South Boston position, he had missed work due to a medical illness and associated appointments. Upon asking for more time off to go to an appointment, his direct supervisor requested that Paul disclose the nature of his illness while assuring Paul that this would be kept confidential. Paul's supervisor, Charles O'Brien was unable or unwilling to keep this confidential and the nature of Paul's illness was then related to other supervisors and employees.
Prior to returning to work, Paul learned that other members of the organization had been informed of his illness and that there had been threats to harm Paul if he returned to work. Fearing physical harm, Paul requested to be put on medical leave. NET paid illness benefits to Paul for a full year, at which point, his illness benefits ran out, and in accordance with company policy, Paul was no longer considered to be a NET employee.
Over this one year period, there were periods in which Paul Cronan felt that he was able to return to work; however, he wanted a transfer since he feared physical harm if returning to his previous position. His fear of harm was due to the significant amounts of negative graffiti and comments about Paul. According to the text of the case, Paul filed a lawsuit against NET charging that NET had violated state privacy law by disclosing his illness and had illegally discriminated against him based on his AIDs status.
(Paul Cronan and New England Telephone Company (A)) Critical issues – Legal There is evidence of Intentional Tort of Invasion of Privacy and Intentional Discrimination by NET and its employees against an individual with a disability. Appropriate legal rules Intentional Tort of Invasion of Privacy: According to Mallor, Barnes, Bowers, Phillips, and Llangvardt (2001), "Publicizing facts concerning someone's private life can be an invasion of privacy if the publicity would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.
The idea is that the public has not legitimate right to know certain aspects of a person's private life. Thus, publicity concerning someone's failure to pay his debts, humiliating illnesses he has suffered, or details about his sex life constitutes and invasion of privacy. Truth is not a defense to this type of invasion of privacy because the essence of the tort is giving unjustified publicity to purely private matters. Here, in further contrast to defamation, publicity means a widespread dissemination of private details. " (pp. 125-126)
Americans with Disabilities Act: Anderson, Fox, Twomey & Jennings (1998) cover the Americans with Disabilities Act. "Section 101(9) of the ADA defines an employer's obligation to make "reasonable accommodations" for individuals with disabilities to include (1) making existing facilities accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities and (2) job restructuring, modified work schedules, and acquisition or modification of equipment or devices. " "A person with a contagious disease may be protected under the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The courts determine if the employee can work on the basis of individualized medical judgments. Considerations include (1) how the disease is transmitted, (2) the duration of the risk, (3) the severity of the risk, (5) the probability that the disease will be transmitted, and (5) whether the individual is other qualified. Persons with AIDS are within the protection of both the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Such persons must be treated like anyone else with a disability" (p. 820).
Observations – connection between the facts and the rules While an employee has the right to confidentiality, possible conflicts can arise. The study guide lists some of these conflicts as scheduling work assignments and protection measures for other employees. While Charles O'Brien had an obligation to inform supervisors of the potential impact of Paul's issue on scheduling issues, there was no need to inform multiple supervisors about the nature of his illness. This was the responsibility of the Medical Department if necessary.
The widespread dissemination of Paul's medical condition in such an unsympathetic and uneducated manner contributed to the hostile environment that Paul was facing if he returned to work. When Paul finally returned to work as part of a settlement with NET, 29 union members participated in an illegal walkout protesting the unsafe presence of Paul Cronan and NET's unwillingness to recognize the company's legal obligation to put the employees health and safety over the reasonable accommodations of one person.
Also noted is the fact the NET did not answer Paul's communications asking for a transfer which in this case could be a "reasonable accommodation". Conclusions It is hard to dispute that NET discriminated against Paul Cronan. In asserting that NET violated his right to privacy, one has to make an assumption about what constitutes widespread publicity of private information. The assumption here is that disseminating private information to employees of other locations constitutes widespread publicity.
While there are many that would argue that no other employees have a right to know this information, this must be balanced with the average employee's right to know if they are at risk. Without informed knowledge about the risk of AIDs, employees have not given their agreement to taking on the potential risk. If NET had acted in an ethical manner and safeguarded Paul's privacy and provided "reasonable accommodations", in addition to implementing measures to protect other employees from potential exposure, this situation may not have occurred.
NET also had a responsibility to address the discriminatory behavior of employees. By allowing the behavior to persist, NET is guilty of encouraging discrimination. The discriminatory environment has contributed to Paul's anxiety and his very real fear of bodily harm. NET could argue that the discrimination occurred due to Paul's status as a homosexual and since homosexuals are not a protected class, the discrimination was not illegal.
Being disabled only provides protection from discrimination based on the disability; it does not automatically guarantee a legal right to be free from other forms of discrimination. However, Paul was fully aware that this was not a protected class and evidenced by his own statements that he never wanted to disclose his sexual preference because the other employees hated gays. Since Paul did not disclose his homosexuality to coworkers and supervisors, this was inferred by his AIDs diagnosis.