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6.6 Case Studies

Cooking a Résumé

Chef Robert Irvine’s résumé was impressive. According to the St. Petersburg Times, he advertised his experience as including:

  • A bachelor’s of science degree in food and nutrition from the University of Leeds.
  • Royal experience working on the wedding cake for Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
  • He was a knight, as in Sir Robert Irvine, Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, handpicked by the Queen.
  • For several consecutive years, he’d received the Five Star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences.
  • He’d served as a White House chef.

The truth—when the newspaper revealed it on a splashy front-page article—wasn’t quite so overpowering:

  • The claimed BS degree? According to a press officer at the University of Leeds, “We cannot find any connection in our records between Robert and the university.”
  • The royal wedding cake? Well, he did help pick some of the fruit that went into it.
  • The knighthood? No.
  • The Five Star Diamond Award? True, but it’s not the AAA’s prestigious Five Diamond Award or Mobil’s five stars. The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences is actually a guy’s apartment in New York, and the award is granted to anyone who pays a fee.
  • White House chef? Kind of. But he didn’t prepare sophisticated dishes for the president or anything like that; he cooked food for the cafeteria line, serving military workers at the White House.Ben Montgomery, “TV Chef Spiced Up His Past Exploits,” St. Petersburg Times, February 17, 2008, accessed May 17, 2011,

After the truth came out, Chef Irvine was fired from his popular TV show on the Food Network, Dinner: Impossible. A few months later, however, after the scandal blew over and he’d corrected his résumé, he reapplied for his old job, was rehired, and he’s on TV today.


  1. When Irvine first applied for the job as TV show chef, he had to consider whether he should “embellish” his résumé, and if so, how far he should go. What ethical responsibilities should he have considered? To whom?
  2. The five types of positive résumé misrepresentations are

    • false credentials,
    • false experience,
    • false chronology,
    • embellished experience,
    • false references.

    Negative résumé misrepresentations have also been discussed. Looking back at Irvine’s résumé adventure, can you label each of his transgressions?

  3. Are some of the lies worse than others in the sense that they relate directly to his ability to be a successful TV chef? Are others less objectionable because they don’t relate to the job he was applying for? Why or why not?
  4. It’s better to seek forgiveness than ask permission. In a sense, that’s what Irvine did. He lied on his résumé, got the job, did well, got caught having lied on the résumé, got fired, sought forgiveness, got it, and got back a TV show job he might never have received had he not lied in the first place. Ethically, how could you go about justifying his course of action?
  5. The Internet site includes the following advice for job seekers: “Hiring Managers Think You’re Lying Anyway!! Yep that’s right, the majority of human resources managers assume that EVERYONE embellishes, exaggerates, puffs up and basically lies to some extent on your résumé. So if you’re being totally honest you’re being penalized because they’re going to assume that you embellished your résumé to a certain extent!”, accessed May 17, 2011,

    Assume you believe this is true, can you make the ethical case for being honest on your résumé regardless of what hiring managers think?

  6. Assume is right. Everyone “embellishes, exaggerates, puffs up and basically lies to some extent on their résumé.” On the basis of the obligations you hold to others (hiring managers, coworkers, other applicants) and to yourself, could you form the argument that you have an ethical responsibility to lie?
  7. You have a friend you like and respect. You’ve spent a lot of time with him over the years in school and you know he’s very responsible, a hard worker, and smart. He’d be good at almost any entry-level type job; you’re sure of it. He comes to you and asks you to fake having been his boss for a pizza delivery business. “I just want,” he says, “someone out there who I can count on to say I’m the good, responsible type. You know, someone who’s always on time for work, that kind of thing.” Would you do it? Justify your answer.

Inmate Wages

An Internet posting carries a simple Q&A thread: someone’s searching for a good upholstery shop in Maryland. An unexpected answer comes back from Fenny L: criminals. A local jail has a job-training program for their inmates and they contract the men at $1.50 per hour.Fenny L., April 7, 2009, “Searching for good upholstery shop in MD,” accessed May 17, 2011, shop-in-md.

The responses to the suggestion are intense and all over the place, but many circle around the ethics of the numbingly low wage, leading Fenny L to introduce a new thread. Here are the three main points she makes.

  • While I object to slave labor…at the same time, I don’t see this as slave labor. If I wished to become a professional uhhh…upholsterer (what do they call themselves?!?) I would need to spend money on the classes and etc. The Dept of Corrections doesn’t charge the inmates for these classes—thusly, I don’t see a problem with only paying the inmates $1.50 for their work.
  • Also, we use free/cheap labor ALL the time…in the form of Interns. Interns are often paid nothing, or extremely little—because they want the job experience…that is their compensation. In turn, I feel that the inmates are getting job experience so that they can earn an honest living once they get out.
  • Finally, I think that the Dept. of Corrections has to make the wages obscenely low—because let’s be honest…how many people would feel comfortable with having a convict in their home to do work? The only way they can be competitive and offer the inmates this opportunity, is to make it worth the consumer to utilize them—by having obscenely low wages.Fenny L., April 17, 2009, “Ethics of Inmate Wages,” accessed May 17, 2011,


  1. Suppose you made a mistake and ended up in jail for a few months. While there, you participated in this program. Now you’re out and seeking an upholstering job.

    • You’re considering leaving the jail part of this episode off your résumé. Whose interests should you consider before going ahead? What ethical case could you make for leaving it off your résumé?
    • Given the kind of work you’d be doing—going into peoples’ homes and upholstering—does the nature of your “mistake” (drunk driving versus shoplifting, for example) influence the ethical consideration of whether you ought to acknowledge this part of your life on your résumé? How?
    • Maybe for the first several years you should leave your prison training on your résumé, but is there a kind of statute of limitations, a certain amount of time that, once passed, gives you an ethical license to leave something negative off your résumé? How would you calculate the amount of time, and based on what factors?
  2. Sometimes a split opens between a community-wage level (what people in general in a certain place are paid for certain labor) and an organizational-wage level (what people at a specific organization are paid for the same labor). The split clearly opens here; the prisoners are paid much less than other upholsterers in the larger community.

    • Fenny L believes this split is justified by the ethics of a market economy. She makes the point that most people really don’t want crooks wandering around their house, so in order to get business, the prison needs to make its offer attractive by cutting labor prices. She’s probably right in terms of economics, but in terms of ethics, do you find this reasoning convincing? Why or why not?
    • Can you form an ethical argument in favor of the prisoners demanding a pay raise to make their salary comparable with other upholsterers?
  3. If you were an upholsterer and your company had a practice of hiring ex-convicts because they’d work for lower wages, could you make the ethical argument that you deserve a higher wage than those other workers with similar experience and skills because you’d never had trouble with the law? What would your argument look like?
  4. If you were an upholsterer looking to wiggle a pay hike, would you ask a friend to pose as the boss from a competing outfit and offer you the same job at a higher salary? In considering the question, what are the specific ethical obligations tugging one way or the other, and to whom do you have the obligations?
  5. Fenny L. believes the workers are receiving a fair wage because they’re getting valuable training and experience that will improve their future job prospects. That’s probably true, but the fact remains that the workers are being paid much less money, for the same work, than others.

    • Is an internship—or any post where you receive less than the community-wage level for a certain kind of work—a humiliation? Why or why not?
    • Is there an ethical objection to allowing yourself to be humiliated? Explain.
  6. Many jobs require company-sponsored training, and frequently employees enrolling in corporate training programs sign repayment clauses, promising to repay the training’s cost if they leave before a certain amount of time has passed, say, one year. Is there an ethical argument here for the idea that repayment clauses are a form of prison and therefore unethical? Why or why not?
  7. Upholstering is not a job where experience counts very much. Yes you need some initial training and practice, but once you’ve got that, ten years more experience isn’t going to make you a significantly better upholsterer of common items. Accepting that reality, if you were the upholsterer who’d been with the company the longest, could you still translate your seniority into an ethical argument that you deserve a higher wage than others who’ve been around less time? Explain.

Dirty Tricks

In his book 21 Dirty Tricks at Work, author Colin Gautrey gives his readers a taste of how intense life at the office can get. Here are two of his favorite tricks.“21 Dirty Tricks,” The Gautrey Group, accessed May 17, 2011,


  1. The exposure trick. Coercing a coworker by threatening to make public a professional or personal problem

    If you’re angling for a raise, and you know something damaging about your supervisor, you may be tempted by the tactic of exposure. Imagine you know that your supervisor has a prescription drug habit and it’s getting worse. Her performance at the office has been imbalanced but not so erratic as to raise suspicions. You plan to confront her and say you’ll spill the beans unless she gets you a raise. Whose interests are involved here? What responsibilities do you have to each of them? What ethical justification could you draw up to justify your threat?

  2. The bystander trick. Knowing that someone is in trouble but standing on the sidelines and doing nothing even when intervention is clearly appropriate and would be helpful to the business

    At an upholstering company you’re in competition for a promotion with a guy who learned the craft in jail, through the Department of Corrections’ job-training course. He hadn’t revealed that fact to anyone, but now the truth has come to light. You’ve worked with him on a lot of assignments and seen that he’s had a chance to make off with some decent jewelry but hasn’t taken anything. You could speak up to defend him, but you’re tempted to use the bystander trick to increase the odds that you’ll win the duel. What ethical argument could you draw up to convince yourself that you shouldn’t stand there and watch, but instead you should help your adversary out of the jam?

The End of Destiny’s Child

The R&B group Destiny’s Child was composed of Beyoncé Knowles, Kelly Rowland, and Michelle Williams. They started slow in 1990 (Beyoncé was nine), giving miniconcerts in crumbling dance halls around Houston, and then kept at it through small-time talent shows, promised record deals that never materialized, and the disintegration of Rowland’s family (Beyoncé’s parents took her into their home). They finally got a crummy but real record deal in 1998 and made the most of it.

By 2002 they’d become a successful singing and dance act. But soon after, they broke up under the pressure of Beyoncé’s solo career, which seemed to be speeding even faster than the group effort.

In 2004 they reunited for a new album, Destiny Fulfilled, which went triple platinum. On the European leg of the subsequent world tour, Beyoncé quit more definitively. She took the fan base with her and began evolving into the hugely successful Beyoncé we know now: pop music juggernaut, movie celebrity, clothing design star.…The other two members of the original group? Today they appear on B-list talk shows (when they can get booked) and are presented to viewers as Kelly Rowland, formerly of Destiny’s Child, and Michelle Williams, formerly of Destiny’s Child.

According to the New York Times it shouldn’t be surprising that things ended up this way: “It’s been a long-held belief in the music industry that Destiny’s Child was little more than a launching pad for Beyoncé Knowles’s inevitable solo career.”Lola Ogunnaike, “Beyoncé’s Second Date with Destiny’s Child,” New York Times, November 14, 2004, accessed May 17, 2011,

Which leads to this question: Why did she go back in 2004 and do the Destiny Fulfilled album with her old partners? Here’s what the New York Times reported: “Margeaux Watson, arts and entertainment editor at Suede, a fashion magazine, suggests that the star does not want to appear disloyal to her former partners, and called Beyoncé’s decision to return to the group a charitable one.” But “from Day 1, it’s always been about Beyoncé,” Ms. Watson said. “She’s the one you can’t take your eyes off of; no one really cares about the other girls. I think Beyoncé will eventually realize that these girls are throwing dust on her shine.”Lola Ogunnaike, “Beyoncé’s Second Date with Destiny’s Child,” New York Times, November 14, 2004, accessed May 17, 2011,


  1. Destiny’s Child rolled money in, and it needed to be divided up. Assume the three singers always split money equally, going way back to 1990 when it wasn’t the profits they were dividing but the costs of gasoline and hotel rooms, which added up to more than they got paid for performing. About the money that finally started coming in faster than it was going out, here are two common theories for justifying the payment of salaries within an organization: Money is apportioned according to the worker’s value to the organization, and money is apportioned according to the experience and seniority relative to others in the organization.

    • How would these two distinct ways of divvying up the revenue change the salary assigned to the three singers?
    • When success came, how could Beyoncé ethically justify demanding a greater share of the pie?
    • How could you justify experience and seniority as the ethically preferable route to follow when paying the three singers making up Destiny’s Child?
  2. There are a lot of rhythm and blues groups out there, singing as hard as they can most nights on grimy stages for almost no audience, which means the organizational-wage level of Destiny’s Child was way, way above the wage level of other organizations in the same line of work.

    • When the members of Destiny’s Child cash their paychecks, should they feel guilty about getting so much more than others in their profession who work just as hard as they do, but in different organizations where the pay is less? Why or why not?
    • Cashiers at Whole Foods Market get paid more than cashiers at Walmart. Should the Whole Foods cashiers feel guilty? Why or why not?
  3. Beyoncé didn’t break clean from Destiny’s Child. She rejoined the organization because, according to Watson, “she didn’t want to appear disloyal to her former partners.” Beyoncé felt an ethical responsibility to mind the interests of Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. As she thought about leaving the group more definitively, what other people (if any) do you suppose she should have considered in order to feel ethically justified in finally and permanently taking off on her own? What are the obligations she holds to Rowland, Williams, and any others you have added to the list?
  4. Destiny’s Child was a pop group; their hits included “Say My Name,” which isn’t too different from Beyoncé’s smash “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” The videos are pretty close, too: nearly identical mixes of rhythm, dancing, fun, and sexy provocation. After comparing the video of “Say My Name”“Destiny’s Child—Say My Name,” YouTube video, 4:00, posted by “DestinysChildVEVO,” October 25, 2009, with “Single Ladies,”“Beyoncé—Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It),” YouTube video, 3:19, posted by “beyonceVEVO,” October 2, 2009, it’s hard to deny that Beyoncé benefited from her time in Destiny’s Child. Very possibly, she feels as though she owes Rowland and Williams part of her success, and that’s why she did the reunion record and tour. Now, if you were Rowland or Williams, could you form an ethical argument that Beyoncé owes you more than that based on the following:

    • Client appropriation. When Beyoncé left, she benefited from a group of devoted listeners constructed by Destiny’s Child. Do you suppose these would be clients, a market, or some mix? How do you imagine Beyoncé benefited from them and what should she do to repay the obligation?
    • Skill theft. When Beyoncé left, Destiny’s Child still had gas in its engine: the group was selling CDs and touring successfully. It could do that because of the skills the three members learned years earlier through tireless rehearsals and small-time concerts. During all those years they were training for musical success, but when they got it, Beyoncé quickly left the organization. She went out on her own and kept doing what she’d learned to do with Rowland and Williams. Given that, use an ethical theory to make the case that Beyoncé is significantly obligated to the other two. What is her obligation? Is there some point—either after a certain amount of time has passed or an amount of money has been paid or something else—where the obligation will have been satisfied? Explain.

Stolen Intel

Biswamohan Pani, a low-level engineer at Intel, apparently stole trade secrets worth a billion dollars from the company.

His plot was simple. According to a Businessweek article, he scheduled his resignation from Intel for June 11, 2008. He’d accumulated vacation time, however, so he wasn’t actually in the office during June, even though he officially remained an employee. That employee status allowed him access to Intel’s computer network and sensitive information about next-generation microprocessor prototypes. He downloaded the files, and he did it from his new desk at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), which is Intel’s chief rival. Pani had simply arranged to begin his new AMD job while officially on vacation from Intel.

Why did he do it? The article speculates that “Pani obtained Intel’s trade secrets to benefit himself in his work at AMD without AMD’s knowledge that he was doing so, which is a fairly frequent impulse among employees changing jobs: to take a bit of work product from their old job with them.”Michael Orey, “Lessons from Intel’s Trade-Secret Case,” Bloomberg Businessweek, November 18, 2008, accessed May 17, 2011,

According to Nick Akerman, a New York lawyer who specializes in trade secret cases, “It’s amazing how poorly most companies [protect their trade secrets].”Michael Orey, “Lessons from Intel’s Trade-Secret Case,” Bloomberg Businessweek, November 18, 2008, accessed May 17, 2011,

After being caught, Pani faced charges in federal court for trade secret theft, with a possible prison term of ten years. He pleaded innocent, maintaining that he downloaded the material for his wife to use. She was an Intel employee at the time and had no plans to leave.


  1. Can the fact that Pani got the information so easily be used to build an ethical case that what he did wasn’t wrong? If not, why not? If so, what does the case look like?
  2. Ethically, does it matter whether Pani was a key author of the taken documents? Why or why not?
  3. According to the article, a lot of people do what Pani did. Is that a justification for his action? Explain.
  4. Did Pani have a responsibility to formally end his employment status with Intel before joining AMD, or is it OK for him to be vacationing from Intel while working at AMD? Whose interests need to be considered to answer this question thoroughly?
  5. As James Carlini, a professor at Northwestern University, points out in an essay,James Carlini, “Ready to Leave? Why You Shouldn’t Give Two Weeks’ Notice,” WTN News, April 27, 2005, accessed May 17, 2011, it is accepted wisdom in the world of business ethics that employees leaving a company ought to provide two-weeks’ notice to employers. Use the Pani case to make the argument that employees should notify employers that they’re leaving only at the last moment.
  6. Pani left Intel after receiving a poor job review. Probably he was mad about that. From a utilitarian perspective—one that defines the ethical good as the greatest good for the greatest number over the long haul—would Pani have acted more ethically had he stormed into his boss’s office and screamed at the guy and quit instead of biting his tongue, getting a job elsewhere, and doing what he did? Explain.