Thursday, December 1, 2016

United Airlines: Religious Discrimination of Muslim Passengers (2015/2016)

Ethics Case Controversy

            Following the events of September 11, 2001, airports and airlines across the country and the world have been taking specific measures to improve security. The goal of improving security for air travel is to ensure that passengers and employees are having a safe experience. While the focus on safety is of major importance, both the measures that these companies have taken, and the scrutiny from the media, have caused a build up of racism. There has been a severe amount of lashing out at the Muslim community since 9/11. Most significantly, it has been noted that people of Islamic faith have been patted down, searched, and refused service while visiting airports or while onboard flights. A prime example of this mistreatment is present onboard United Airlines flights.
            In May 2015, Tahera Ahmad was mid-flight when she asked the flight attendant for a can of Diet Coke, and was refused. Ahmad later accused United Airlines of Islamophobia, seeing as how she was not only wearing her hijab at the time of the incident, but was told by the flight attendant that they feared she would use the can as a weapon. The flight attendant had given another passenger a can of beer, but told Ahmad that it was against company policy to provide cans. In Ahmad’s case, the employee was later removed from their position. Ahmad is not the only person of Muslim faith that has been denied service on United Airlines (Mai-Duc, 2015). In a similar incident in April 2016, a Muslim family in Chicago was denied a booster seat for their young child. The family had researched online and knew that the company provided the seats, but the flight attendant ignored their requests. Later, the pilot asked them to leave the aircraft, and the family claimed discrimination. In response, the pilot told them it was a matter of safety (Pashman, 2016).
Stakeholders
            There are several relevant stakeholders in this case. To begin, it is obvious that anyone who practices Islam is a stakeholder. Due to the practice of their religion, they are subject to this kind of scrutiny. Another relevant group of stakeholders in this situation are the employees of United Airlines, as well as United Airlines top executives. These actions not only reflect poorly on the employees involved, but on the company as a whole. Other stakeholders include other passengers and family members of both employees and passengers. The passengers and their family members experience a disruption in their travels. The employees and their families experience not only judgment from the media, but in some cases suffer from the employees being out of a job.
Individualism
            Individualism is the economic theory that states that the main goal of a business is to increase its profits, while keeping actions within the scope of the law (Desjardins, 2014). From an individualist’s point of view, United Airlines is not being true to this theory. If the main goal of the airline is to maximize profits, then turning away passengers on a discriminatory basis is not a smart decision. When scandals like this come about, it is detrimental to the business. People may not want to fly with United if they think that the company has a discriminatory background, and may choose to take their business to another airline. The company has also stated that their actions have been taken in order to increase safety, meaning that this is their main focus. Under individualism, United is not being true to the main goal of business because they are not trying to maximize profits, rather they are trying to maximize safety.
Utilitarianism
            The focus of utilitarianism is to maximize the overall good of a situation. Utilitarianism defines an act as ethical if the actions in question produced an outcome that can be perceived as good (Desjardins, 2014). In the United Airlines case, a utilitarian would say that these actions did not maximize the overall good, and are therefore unethical. Not only was travel disturbed for all passengers on these flights, but the people that were directly effected were highly inconvenienced. Ahmad was shamed by another passenger (Mai-Duc, 2015). In addition, the family in Chicago were not able to travel when they needed to (Pashman 2016). Also, both parties suffered from media scrutiny as well as the emotional damage brought on by the discrimination. The family in Chicago probably had to explain to their young children why they couldn’t stay on the plane, and that type of emotional trauma will follow them their entire lives. In addition, the employee in Ahmad’s case was terminated and, in both cases, the airline was branded as a discriminatory company. This situation produces almost no good for any of the parties involved, and therefore a utilitarian would not consider these actions ethical.
Kantianism
            Kantianism is an ethical theory that says companies must be respectful of others when making decisions. Therefore, if an action is harmful to another party, it will be considered unethical, even if the outcome is good. Kantianism means that we must not use others to reach our outcomes (Desjardins, 2014). A Kantian thinker would perceive the United Airlines case as an unethical one. The employees involved were being harmful to others through their actions. Both Ahmad and the family from Chicago were not only publicly humiliated, but disturbed during their travel time. While the outcome the employees were seeking (safety for other passengers and crew) may have seemed to be a good one, the parties effected were harmed too much to make the actions justifiable under Kantianism. There was no other reason other than personal prejudice to consider either of these situations as unsafe. Therefore, there was no respect from the employees to the passengers, and this situation is unethical under Kantianism.
Virtue Theory
            Virtue theory is the theory that focuses on specific character traits and values to evaluate an ethical situation (Desjardins, 2014). In this situation, the company is being dishonest and the employees are exhibiting personal prejudice. Both dishonesty and prejudice are perceived as negative character traits. When the employees chose to deny the Muslim passengers their simple requests, they were exhibiting these traits. They lied about the availability of specific items onboard, and about company policy. This dishonesty and prejudice was a direct reflection of the employees' character. By acting on such traits, United Airlines and their employees are being unethical under virtue theory because they are acting with negative character traits.
Ethics Evaluation
            United Airlines' employees are being completely unethical in this case. The employees are refusing service that they have rightly promised to all customers. They cannot give one customer an unopened can of beer, and then tell another that it is company policy to withhold unopened cans of soda. In addition, the United Airlines website had clearly stated that families would have access to special seating for children. Therefore, it is so very obvious that they were withholding the harness from the family in Chicago for discriminatory reasons. While the airline industry is an industry that is clearly skeptical of specific races and religions, it does not justify the actions of these United Airlines’ employees. There is absolutely no excuse for why a family was removed from a flight if they simply wanted a safer seat for their child. Businesses can’t select who they want to serve and who they do not. They made certain promises to all paying customers. Upon accepting payment, the airline agreed to provide these services, and they are going back on their word by doing these things.
Action Plan
            United Airlines needs to create a formal action plan to ensure that they not only restore a credible public opinion, but regain the trust of their customers. It is highly important that they release an affirming mission statement to the public. United’s current mission statement states that they are committed to a diversified work place. However, the company makes no mention of the fact that they want a diversified customer base, or to provide a service free from discrimination (Our United Customer Commitment). A more accurate mission statement would go along the lines of, “We at United Airlines are committed to providing a travel experience that is not only safe, but free from unfair treatment, harassment, and discrimination. We want our customers to have a very safe, pleasurable experience on our aircrafts.”
            In order to accomplish this new mission statement, it is important that the executives at United follow a simple plan. First, they can issue a press release or hold a conference in which they explain the issues at hand and reveal the new mission statement. They must also be sure that the employees involved in these incidents are punished effectively. Clearly, they’ve begun to take the right steps by terminating the flight attendant from Ahmad’s case. After taking appropriate action, I think it is important that the company create new guidelines and procedures for employee punishment in such situations. They should issue these procedures to the public to show that they are serious about the situation. Lastly, United should look into any and all complaints about discrimination onboard their aircrafts and take appropriate action for each.

            With this mission statement and set of actions, I believe that United Airlines will regain public respect and trust.
References
DesJardins, J. R. (2014). An Introduction to Business Ethics. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Mai-Duc, C. (2015, June 3). Flight attendant who denied unopened soda can to Muslim will no
longer serve United customers. Retrieved September, 2016, from
http://www.latimes.com/travel/deals/la-trb-diet-coke-airline-apology-20150603-story.html
Myers, A. (2016, April 02). Muslim family kicked off flight demands apology from United
Airlines. Retrieved September, 2016, from
family-met-20160401-story.html
Our United Customer Commitment. (n.d.). Retrieved September, 2016, from
https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/customerfirst.aspx
Pashman, M. B. (2016, April 15). Muslim family kicked off United flight plans to file complaint.
muslim-family-united-airlines-met-20160415-story.html
Sanchez, R. (2015, June 3). United apologizes after discrimination claim. Retrieved September,
2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/30/us/united-flight-muslim-chaplain/

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Unethical Behavior by Verizon
Brian Belcher
PH 211-53
Fall 2016
November 22

Image result for verizon logo



            For years now, Verizon has been providing cell phone service to many people across the world.  For the most part, the company has done things that have seemed fair to its customers.  However, there was one issue in 2015 that may have changed the way people think about Verizon.  On August 7, 2015, Verizon brought to life a somewhat unfair data plan.  This plan would make mandatory that customers pay for their smartphone downright, or with smaller monthly payments.  This plan went into effect six days later.  According to cnet news, “It’s a radical change in how Verizon operates and signals a broader shift away from smartphone subsidies and service contracts.” Verizon is crossing its norm when it comes to this data plan, and this is not only a major change for the customers, but also the company itself.  There is a lot of question regarding how people feel about this new plan.  There are four data plans in this new system, that have number of monthly GB ranging from one to twelve.  All of these plans offer unlimited talk and text. 


Individualism

Individualism focuses on human independence and self reliance more than anything.  This particular case can be viewed from both parties.  For Verizon, if their customers are willing to go aboard with this plan and end up paying more, than that will make Verizon much more independent as a company. Also, the company will be able to be more reliable due to the bigger profit that it will be making.  However, if customers do not go along with this new plan, the view will be turned around.  Verizon will be less reliable due to a decrease in profit, because they as a company would be losing customers and not getting paid as much.  But, the individualism for the customers will get better in this particular scenario because they would be saving their own money by not adhering to Verizon's new plan.  When it comes to individualism, there is a lot to consider.  Customers decisions to stand with or against the plan will have an impact for both sides of the party.  
 The negative effect that goes along with this plan is that customers who are enrolled in family plans would pay five dollars more than usual, which really would add up with a large household family.  According to cnet news, “Verizon also eliminated its low-end 500-megabyte plan, priced at $20, which was an attractive option for customers who weren’t heavy data users but still wanted to be on its network-typically order individuals who didn’t need all the bells and whistles of the latest smartphone.”  This quote basically says that customers who are not totally hip to the new smartphones and are not on them constantly will still pay equally as much as those who basically live on their phones.  It is the same idea as something such as going to a restaurant and ordering something small for lunch, like soup and a sandwich, but paying the same price as someone who ordered a four-course meal.  This would be a very quick way for a restaurant to lose business and profit.  The same applies with the Verizon case.  People who are not as cell-phone active as others will likely extricate themselves from Verizon and Verizon would lose business very quickly as well. 

    Kantianism        
According to DesJardins, “Kant tells us that we should act only according to those maxims that could be universally accepted and acted on” (38).  It also provides the maxim answer to the question, “what am I doing?”.  A Kantian might review this case as a poor action displayed by Verizon.  The maxim answer to that question in this case could potentially be something as extreme as losing big-time business.  That is, if enough people are unhappy with this new plan and decide to take their business elsewhere.  Another maxim answer to this question is that Verizon’s competitors such as Sprint, T-Mobile, etc would see increases in business as Verizon is losing business.  It is safe to say that these types of cell phone companies are major competitors and would not want to give big business away for free. 

 Utilitarianism 
Utilitarianism also has a good number of views.  Another thing that DesJardin says is that, “Utilitarianism is an ethical tradition that directs us to make decisions based on the overall consequences of our acts” (24).  It could be fair to say that Verizon may not have went along with this new plan if they knew that business could potentially be lost if there were unhappy customers.  DesJardins then says, “A second tradition, one based on the importance of ethical principles and rights, directs us to decide on the basis of moral principles such as keeping your promises or giving people what they deserve” (24).  One might ask himself, do these Verizon customers who barely use their phones deserve to paying the same amount as people who are on their phones constantly? Everybody has their own traditions and values in life, and those traditions should be paid for appropriately.  One last tradition, according to DesJardins, is “Finally, virtue ethics directs us to consider the moral character of individuals and how various character traits can contribute to, or obstruct, a happy and meaningful human life” (24).  It is somewhat difficult to connect that value to this specific case, but it can be said that cell phone users and non-cell phone users have different character in their personalities and those specific character traits should be treated equally.  There are many different values associated with utilitarianism in general, and also this specific case. 
Virtue Theory
According to an article called Virtue Ethics, "Virtue ethics is currently one of three major approaches in normative ethics. It may, initially, be identified as the one that emphasizes the virtues, or moral character, in contrast to the approach which emphasizes duties or rules (deontology) or that which emphasizes the consequences of actions (consequentialism)" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). As mentioned earlier, there are good consequences for this action by Verizon, as well as bad consequences.  If customers decide to go with the plan, Verizon will make a bigger profit, but if customers back out of this plan, then Verizon will lose profit and the customer will save money.  Either way, it is a win-lose situation.  In this particular scenario, it is not possible for both parties to benefit from the action of the customers of Verizon.  It could be said also that the moral character of Verizon could be questioned while bringing this new plan to life, because one might think that Verizon is looking only to increase profit, and not caring about how it affects the customers. 
Image result for action plan
Action Plan
If this is a plan that is going to have a negative impact on the customers of Verizon, which obviously

does, then the option of keeping the old plan should be in place as well.  As mentioned before, it is

very unfair that customers who rarely use their cellphones pay equally as much as people who are

on their phones constantly.  According to a graph on tradingeconomoics, during the time that this

new plan was being brought to life, the United States economy was decreasing very quickly, and

continued to do so until early 2016 (United States GDP Growth Rate).  It's bad enough that the

economy was going downhill at this time, so customers really should not have to worry about having

to pay more for something that really is a necessity in todays world.  Another idea is that customers

just pay for exactly what they use.  For instance, at the end of the billing period for Verizon, the data

used and the minutes and messages sent can be added up and placed on the customer's bill.  That way

it will be fair for each customer and everyone will pay exactly what they deserve to pay. 


Conclusion

            All in all, some will agree that Verizon’s new cell phone plan can be considered unethical or unfair.  There are many different reasons of why this is, but some may think the new plan is fair, because they can be considered cell phone abusers.  To sum it up, it is a plan that is going to take a lot of getting used to for all of Verizon’s customers.   



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Sources

By Roger Cheng August 7, 2015 9:01 AM PDT. "Verizon Kills off Service Contracts, Smartphone Subsidies." CNET. N.p., 07 Aug. 2015. Web. 07 Oct. 2016.

DesJardins, Joseph R. An Introduction to Business Ethics. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009. Print.                         

Hursthouse, Rosalind. "Virtue Ethics." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 18 July 2003. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-virtue/>.

"United States GDP Growth Rate | 1947-2016 | Data | Chart | Calendar." United States GDP Growth Rate | 1947-2016 | Data | Chart | Calendar. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-states/gdp-growth>.