Ethics - Moral law vs. Criminal law

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#21
Ron Rompen said:
I would hesitate to offer this as a 'solution', since it isn't actually DOING anything.

We rely, in large part, on our reputation with our customers. We are fortunate enough to be in a (relatively) small manufacturing niche, and suppliers are few and far between.

There is a lot of cross-talk between quality people, engineering people, designers, buyers, etc, and word quickly gets around who is a 'good supplier' and who isn't.

If I was in the position of, for example, a machine shop, I would offer on-site process audits of current product, examples of customer surveys, copies of awards and citations, etc. Anything that comes from a CUSTOMER, rather than a supplier (and your registrar IS your supplier, however much they may try and pretend otherwise).
Airframe manufacturers (Boeing, Airbus, etc.) are in a narrow manufacturing niche. Suppliers of jet engines are few and far between.

So if you are Boeing or any other major airframe manufacturer, and some of the jet engines you buy are from GE, how would you react to this story, originally in AP wires, but reprinted on ASQ website at the url shown?

How would you react if you were an employee in this lady's shoes, but AFTER you've read this thread and BEFORE you reported it to anyone?

Note: This excerpt is "fair use" for teaching example purposes

http://www.asq.org/news/qualitynews/2004/12/06/20041206gedefects.html
General Electric Covered Up Defects on Airplane Engine Products
SOURCE: The Associated Press

A former General Electric (GE) quality control engineer is suing the company, saying it covered up defects during production of jet engine blades at a Kentucky plant.

Terri Brown says the defects could cause “catastrophic failures” in commercial and military aircraft. Brown maintains GE knew of the problem but kept shipping the defective blades because “correcting the process would have slowed manufacturing.”

The lawsuit says that between 1991 and 2001, the plant manufactured and shipped defective blades for airplane engines. Blades compress air in the engine and vibrate constantly under a great deal of heat and pressure. Even a microscopic crack could cause a blade to break, said Charles Eastlake, an aerospace engineering professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
In the lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court in Owensboro, Brown also says the company retaliated against her for reporting the defects and that she was threatened by employees and pushed down a stairway, causing her to be permanently disabled.

No accidents or malfunctions have been tied to defects in components made at the factory and “thousands of planes around the world are flying every day with blades made there,” said Rick Kennedy, a spokesman for Cincinnati based GE Aircraft Engines.

The irony in this story is that ASQ flaunts it on the same page they hail Six Sigma as something akin to the "Savior of the World." GE is practically synonymous with Six Sigma.

Any of you have comments about Terri and/or GE?
Note - this is only a lawsuit, it is not a verdict and GE is officially innocent of wrongdoing unless a jury or court of competent jurisdiction declares otherwise.
 
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Steve Prevette

Deming Disciple
Staff member
Super Moderator
#22
Only you can give away your ethics

Here are my thoughts, based upon some challenges over the years.

1. It does not pay to be a whistle blower. At best, your company will let you go with a healthy sum of money. I know this happened to a person I know, their employer asked them to investigate something, it turned out much worse than the employer even suspected, and the person was let go with a tidy sum of money to stay quiet. Of course, I am not going to provide any more details than that. Other than that, it is a no-win situation.

2. I think there is a "slippery slope" prior to a company asking for pure black and white unethical behavior. Yes, over the years folks have asked me "can't you make that chart look better". My answer is no. Now, no one has ever asked me to falsify data. But I suspect I would have been temporarily popular if I had some how contorted the data to look like they wanted. In the long run, it is a losing proposition. Have you ever read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand? Getting the employee to do that first compromise, to become a "criminal", no matter how slight, starts the downhill ride. The Soviet Union was also good at recruiting people to be traitors to the U.S. in that manner. Get a person to do something innocuous like supply a base telephone book, then they are hooked. Just keep threatening the employee with turning them in, unless they do the next thing for you.

3. Only you can give away your ethics, your principles. I have a Vincent Foster quote in my "Pushing the Envelope From Within" presentation at In2InThinking (http://in2in.org/forums/2004/conference_program.shtml)

The reputation you develop for intellectual and
ethical integrity will be your greatest asset or your
worst enemy .... There is no victory, no advantage,
no fee, no favor which is worth even a blemish on
your reputation for intellect and integrity.


4. Maybe I have been lucky. But I think a personal decision to not even start down the path of compromising your integrity is a key decision. No job is worth not being able to look yourself in the mirror in the morning. Have you done everything you can do to work with the company to a good resolution?

5. The clipping about the fan blades now just turns into one word against another. At best, the person involved will win some money.
 
Last edited:

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#23
Steve Prevette said:
Here are my thoughts, based upon some challenges over the years.

1. It does not pay to be a whistle blower. At best, your company will let you go with a healthy sum of money. I know this happened to a person I know, their employer asked them to investigate something, it turned out much worse than the employer even suspected, and the person was let go with a tidy sum of money to stay quiet. Of course, I am not going to provide any more details than that. Other than that, it is a no-win situation.

2. I think there is a "slippery slope" prior to a company asking for pure black and white unethical behavior. Yes, over the years folks have asked me "can't you make that chart look better". My answer is no. Now, no one has ever asked me to falsify data. But I suspect I would have been temporarily popular if I had some how contorted the data to look like they wanted. In the long run, it is a losing proposition. Have you ever read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand? Getting the employee to do that first compromise, to become a "criminal", no matter how slight, starts the downhill ride. The Soviet Union was also good at recruiting people to be traitors to the U.S. in that manner. Get a person to do something innocuous like supply a base telephone book, then they are hooked. Just keep threatening the employee with turning them in, unless they do the next thing for you.

3. Only you can give away your ethics, your principles. I have a Vincent Foster quote in my "Pushing the Envelope From Within" presentation at In2InThinking (http://in2in.org/forums/2004/conference_program.shtml)

The reputation you develop for intellectual and
ethical integrity will be your greatest asset or your
worst enemy .... There is no victory, no advantage,
no fee, no favor which is worth even a blemish on
your reputation for intellect and integrity.

4. Maybe I have been lucky. But I think a personal decision to not even start down the path of compromising your integrity is a key decision. No job is worth not being able to look yourself in the mirror in the morning. Have you done everything you can do to work with the company to a good resolution?

5. The clipping about the fan blades now just turns into one word against another. At best, the person involved will win some money.

Of course, it doesn't PAY to be a whistle blower (net money in hand after grief, aggravation, threats, dimmed job prospects, etc.), but sometimes a person HAS to step forward because of life, health, safety issues which affect or can affect other people. How would you feel if you were the lady in this GE case and a passenger jet went down with all souls on board because the turbine blades shattered because of some deliberately overlooked nonconformance?

MY PREMISE is there is a time and a method to do that which will be most effective in bringing attention of the problem to people with the power, authority, and motivation to fix the problem and still provide safety for you and your family.

It is imperative that the whistleblower keep a low profile until all his personal safeguards are in place. As I've written elsewhere, some people have a personality which drives them to take center stage and climb on a soapbox to lead the charge against the "evil organization." They don't really want change so much as they want personal attention and glory.

Whatever you do, get good outside counsel to help look out for your interests. Some companies will offer to buy you off (bribe) - only you can make the decision to accept the bribe, but once you do, know absolutely that your days at the organization are numbered and you should have an exit plan once you begin to blow the whistle.

Know this, for what it's worth, even I, with all my experience, would still get an excellent attorney to work with me to assure I and family were provided for before making the first tootle on my whistle. Especially as a redundant check to ensure I cover :ca: .

My list in post 1 is good, but remember always, you don't live in a vacuum. Other people are affected by your decisions.
 
B

Bill Pflanz

#24
Steve Prevette said:
Maybe I have been lucky. But I think a personal decision to not even start down the path of compromising your integrity is a key decision. No job is worth not being able to look yourself in the mirror in the morning. Have you done everything you can do to work with the company to a good resolution?
I just had a conversation with someone this week about ethics. Like Steve, the person has not had to compromise their integrity although they see it happening around them at times.

Rather than just being lucky, it may be that once you get a reputation for high integrity, those individuals who want to cut corners find a more willing participant. When I pointed it out to the person that I had the discussion with, he readily agreed that was what seems to have happened to him. They just move down the aisle to the next office until they find the person who will compromise themselves.

There is also a difference between poor ethics and criminal behavior. Whistle blowing really has more meaning when criminal activity is involved. Even violating a contract with a customer is a legal not necessarily a criminal matter. The only reason that I am differentiating is not to excuse people's behavior but to point out that whistle blowing laws are not meant to be used for everyday lying and cheating no more matter how repugnant you may find it.

Bill Pflanz
 

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#25
Bill Pflanz said:
I just had a conversation with someone this week about ethics. Like Steve, the person has not had to compromise their integrity although they see it happening around them at times.

Rather than just being lucky, it may be that once you get a reputation for high integrity, those individuals who want to cut corners find a more willing participant. When I pointed it out to the person that I had the discussion with, he readily agreed that was what seems to have happened to him. They just move down the aisle to the next office until they find the person who will compromise themselves.

Bill Pflanz
One of my favorite Shakespearian quotes is
"Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished . . ." (from Hamlet's soliloquy, "To be or not to be . . .")

Yes, if you carry yourself with high integrity, few will take the trouble to try to corrupt you. Maybe some of your integrity will even rub off on them.

Good addition, Bill!
 

Steve Prevette

Deming Disciple
Staff member
Super Moderator
#26
Wes Bucey said:
One of my favorite Shakespearian quotes is
"Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished . . ." (from Hamlet's soliloquy, "To be or not to be . . .")

Yes, if you carry yourself with high integrity, few will take the trouble to try to corrupt you. Maybe some of your integrity will even rub off on them.

Good addition, Bill!
Wandering around here, but I figured this would make a great story. I had a co-worker come to try to counsel me that I was turning people off from using my services. He said that he knew several people who were doing charts and considered asking for my help, but the knew I "would bleed all over their charts". He thought this was a terrible thing. I said, no, this is a good thing. For you see, I have planted a seed of doubt in their mind. They know their charts are weak, and they have already realized that for themselves. But they have not yet reached the point where they want to actively have a fix.

Yes, over the years, those folks did come to me, but only once ready.
 

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#27
Art imitates life

I was just about ready to turn off "Boston Legal" last night and propose a Gin game to my wife when the story line turned to WHISTLEBLOWING. I won't bore you with the plot details which you can get in reruns, but I was absorbed by the fact they made similar points to this thread in that the "whistleblower" ALWAYS ends up on the short end of the stick.

So, as I bored my wife to distraction with tales of corporate perfidy over breakfast this morning, she handed me the Tribune she had been trying to read with the paper folded open to this story (copied under fair use for educational purposes) [the bold face and/or typeface color are added by me for emphasis]:
Chicago Tribune-12-13-04 said:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/printedition/chi-0412130208dec13,1,955392.story
Defamation lawsuits put activists on defensive
Companies take critics to court

By Tim Jones
Tribune national correspondent

December 13, 2004
OAKVILLE, Mo. -- With a meticulous eye to detail, Tom Diehl did his homework. He immersed himself in the regulatory minutiae of trash. He pored over environmental studies. And after publicly stating his case against a proposed garbage holding pen in his suburban St. Louis community, he won.

What Diehl did not anticipate was getting sued for his civic activism. The trash company has filed a $5 million libel and slander suit, alleging Diehl's and other opponents' characterization of the firm as "trash terrorists" suggests the company has killed Americans and intends to kill more.

In a nation of sometimes-outrageous talk, where nothing is more American than speaking out at a public hearing, attorneys who follow defamation suits say the number of defamation claims against individuals who do speak out is growing. Politicians are suing citizens as well as other politicians. Businesses seeking approval of development projects are suing people who oppose them.

Attorneys who follow the suits say the trend resembles Goliath pummeling David: People with the means to sue are filing suit against individuals who don't keep lawyers on retainer.

While most cases are eventually dismissed or dropped, the financial liability implications from these lawsuits may make people think twice before they testify at hearings or otherwise get involved in public debates.

"We've seen a run-up in these cases, often by fairly powerful businesses seeking to muffle or stifle public participation," said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago.

"If you're a big company it doesn't cost a lot of money to file a lawsuit and it sends a message, and that is `Don't get involved,'" Learner said.

Steve Kling, a St. Louis lawyer who represented a homeowner sued for publicly criticizing the placement of an orthodontist next to her home, called the lawsuits "economic warfare against individuals who don't have the resources to fight."

"This is all about money," Kling added. "You are talking about staggering amounts of money involved in planning and zoning disputes, and in order to protect their investments, people are suing."

Company's hefty demand
The case involving Diehl, 48, is a clash of 1st Amendment speech--even hyperbolic--versus the right of individuals and companies to protect their reputations against false and malicious attacks.

It has attracted attention for two reasons. One, because of the amount of the damages sought--$5 million against one individual. And two, because the plaintiff, Fred Weber Inc., a trash collector and one of the largest road builders in Missouri, has left open the possibility of suing other individuals who oppose the company's plan to build a trash transfer station in the bedroom suburb of Oakville.

A Missouri Court of Appeals panel is scheduled to hear arguments Monday on a motion to dismiss the suit against Diehl.

"They're suing me to take away my right to be a citizen," said Diehl, a fundraising consultant for churches and schools.

Not so, said Gary Feder, a lawyer representing Fred Weber. Feder said the company had no problem with

Diehl's public testimony against the proposal. Fred Weber singled out Diehl as the leader of the opposition, but it was a leaflet distributed by opponents telling local citizens what they can do "to fight the trash terrorists" that triggered the lawsuit, Feder said.

"The flier suggested it [Fred Weber] had operated like a terrorist," Feder said, adding that company employees have been endangered because people might believe they are working for a terrorist organization.

John Campisi, a St. Louis County councilman who criticized the trash proposal, has come under fire from the Weber company for siding with Diehl.

Weber filed a motion with the St. Louis County Council to have Campisi disqualified from any future consideration on appeals on the matter because Campisi "has aligned himself with his constituent," the company said in a filing.

"Everyone is scared of being the next one to be sued," Campisi said. "This is utterly ridiculous."

Within the legal community there are divisions about the merits of companies suing individuals for slander. Stephen Presser of Northwestern University's School of Law said courts should not jump to conclusions that there is "a conspiracy to silence citizens."

"To suggest there is an interference with the 1st Amendment freedoms might be hasty," Presser said.

Dan Polsby, who teaches law at George Mason University, said the suits "have a bad odor."
"To be punishing people for engaging in what surely they recognize as privileged speech or privileged hyperbole is over the top. And they'll probably sue me for saying that," Polsby said.

Lawsuits of this nature are often referred to as a SLAPP suits, short for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Weber attorneys strongly argue this case is not a SLAPP suit; the company is merely trying to protect its reputation, they say.

Shortly after the American Revolution, some government officials sued individuals who criticized them, but those cases usually went nowhere. With the rise of civic activism in the 1960s and '70s, these types of cases enjoyed a rebirth.

Lawsuits are pending in Michigan, Massachusetts, California, Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states.

One of the more celebrated lawsuits involved talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who was sued in 1997 by beef cattlemen in Texas who claimed she maligned beef during a broadcast. Winfrey prevailed in federal court.

"She had a gazillion dollars to do it. And it was great for her ratings," Learner said. "But if you're Joe Citizen, you don't have the financial means to go to Texas and turn your defense into a media festival."
Friends and supporters of Diehl have created a defense fund called the John Doe Society. People contribute money, mostly in cash because they fear that checks might be traced to them.

"It's like all life has stopped. This has taken over our lives," said Diehl's wife, Barbi, who cried and doodled furiously on a yellow legal pad during an interview. "When you get served with a lawsuit for $5 million, it's a grain of sand for them [Weber] but it's our lifetime."

Diehl, who described himself as a newcomer to community activism, said he is angry. "If you're going to be sued anytime you speak out, what's an ordinary citizen to do?" he asked.

"Shut up and go away and give them what they want," Barbi Diehl said.

Some states aware of problem

About two dozen states have laws attempting to regulate SLAPP suits; Illinois has anti-SLAPP legislation pending in the General Assembly.

The Missouri law does not apply to corporations suing individuals. State Sen. John Loudon, the law's author, said he will push legislation next year to quickly enable individuals to counter-sue and provide a means for people to recover costs they incurred to defend themselves.

"What you have to do is hit the bully back," said Lester Stuckmeyer, an attorney for the John Doe Society. "If you can't hit them back and if you're afraid to speak out, then they have won."

The Diehls said they are weary of the fight.
"I never dreamed this would have happened," Barbi Diehl said. "I just don't want to be afraid anymore."

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune
This fits with the thread about being "outed" at your own organization for what you write here in the Cove. It dovetails perfectly with the point I made in the first post in this thread:

Regardless of the fact there is a government route for whistle blowing on a corporation, do NOT take that route without the advice of a lawyer who will protect YOUR interests.
 

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#28
Let's recap:
  • Don't whistleblow without the advice of a lawyer
  • Don't commit any illegal acts in your zeal to "punish" wrongdoers
  • Always protect yourself and your family
Elsewhere in the Cove, we have threads about
  1. Managers who "apparently" ignore quality criteria in a regulated industry
  2. Possible "bogus" ISO9k2k registration
  3. Covers being "outed" and subsequently punished for remarks they made in the Cove
  4. Covers losing keys and reluctant to take preventive measure to protect against burglary or injury.
What does it all boil down to?
The world can be a scary, treacherous place. It makes sense to follow Quality precepts in our lives:
  • FMEA (just one way of performing risk analysis)
  • Corrective/preventive action
  • Customer relationship management (for each of our internal (family) and external (work and society) customers)
  • PDCA - especially the part about checking [evaluating] our actions for effectiveness
  • Mistake proofing - eliminate opportunities for error.
 

Wes Bucey

Quite Involved in Discussions
#29
Ethics continue to be NEWS.

Today, the wire services are talking about "respected" Northrop:
Northrop Grumman To Settle Fraud Case For $62 Million

Tuesday March 1, 3:45 PM EST

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)--Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC) has agreed to pay $62 million to settle allegations of overcharging the government, the largest settlement ever under the federal False Claims Act, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

Northrop faced allegations of widespread fraudulent accounting as well as misconduct related to a B-2 stealth bomber radar jammer, said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of the Northern District of Illinois. The deal will settle a 15-year-old civil lawsuit that was scheduled for trial in June.

In addition, the company said it has agreed to settle personal claims by two whistleblowers, including their petition for attorneys' fees, as well as to reimburse the government for legal costs.

Northrop said it added a pretax charge of $35 million to its fourth-quarter results and that it expects to pay $99 million in the first quarter. Northrop, in a statement Tuesday, expressly denied any liability for violating the False Claims Act in making the settlement.

As a result, the company will revise downward its fourth-quarter earnings from continuing operations to $273 million, or 74 cents a share, from a previously reported $296 million, or 81 cents a share. For all of 2004, income from continuing operations was $1.09 billion, or $2.99 a share, compared with a previously reported $1.12 billion, or $3.06 a share.

Fitzgerald said the settlement shows that defense contractors must work with the government in good faith or face consequences. "The government will pursue its legal remedies when that trust is violated," he said in a statement.

The Justice Department said Northrop allegedly submitted false contract proposals and payment claims on a regular basis in the 1980s. The company also allegedly lied to the government about its work on a radar-jamming device in 1985 in order to win a $254 million contract.

Two former Northrop employees will receive $12.4 million, or about 20% of the proceeds, for their role in alerting the government to the misconduct: James H. Holzrichter, a former auditor, and the estate of Rex A. Robinson, a deceased test engineer. The two workers filed a civil fraud suit in 1989 that the government joined in 2001, the Justice Department said.

The settlement was filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago. It requires Northrop to pay within seven days.


"Settling this dispute enables the company to focus on our excellent business prospects going forward," said Northrop Grumman spokesman Frank Moore. "We've very pleased to put the matter behind the company."

-By Rebecca Christie; Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9243; [email protected] dowjones.com

Dow Jones Newswires
03-01-05 1545ET
Note how long it took for two whistleblowers to "win" - 12 years before the US government signed on and another 4 years after that (one died waiting.)
Do you wonder how the whistleblowers fared since 1989? Note they are FORMER employees.

Is there a lesson for us to learn? What do YOU think the lesson was?
 

Mike S.

Moved On
Trusted Information Resource
#30
I cannot believe it is always a "no win" situation to be a "whistleblower". Sometimes it must be done in the interest of saving lives, for example, and I refuse to believe it is always a bad ending to varying degrees.

News always focuses more on the bad -- crashes, illness, death, losers, unfairness, destruction, corruption, etc. I'm betting there are cases of whistleblowers "winning" -- or coming out much better than portrayed in the examples given here but they get much less press.

Nevertheless, Wes' advice about lawyers is, sadly, probably worth heeding.
 
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