An engineer has a conflict between honoring an agreement with a former employer and reporting a hazard to protect the public interest. This is an open-ended scenario for discussion based on a case from the NSPE Board of Ethical Review.
The State Pollution Control Authority advises the Bright Corporation that it has 60 days to apply for a permit to discharge manufacturing wastes into a body of water.
In order to convince the Authority that it will meet the environmental standards, the Bright Corporation employs Persaud, an engineer, to perform consulting engineering services and submit a detailed report. After completing the studies, Persaud concludes that the discharge from the plant will violate environmental standards and that the corrective action will be very costly to Bright. Persaud verbally notifies the company, which terminates its contract with Persaud with full payment for the services performed. It instructs Persaud not to render a written report to the corporation.
A short time later, Persaud learns that the Authority has called a public hearing, where the Bright Corporation will present data to support its claim that the present plant discharge meets minimum standards.
What, if anything, should Persaud do now? Is Persaud obliged to report the violation of environmental standards to the Authority? Does Persaud have any residual obligation to the Bright Corporation that would stand in the way of doing so?
--adapted from NSPE Case No. 76-4
NSPE Code of Ethics An earlier version may have been used in this case.
Return to Professional Ethics in Engineering Practice: Discussion Cases Based on NSPE BER Cases
This bibliography includes examples of different ways instructors have used case studies to introduce ethical topics to their students and resources for finding cases and incorporating them into the classroom.
In this essay, Dr. Whitbeck outlines an 'agent-centered' approach to learning ethics. The central aim is to prepare students to act wisely and responsibly when faced with moral problems. She provides a number of examples and cases with descriptions of questions and directions for promoting student participation and stimulating thought and discussion.