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Cronan Case Study

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FACTS

Paul Cronan was ill on and off for the first six months of 1985 with symptoms of AIDS-related complex. Because of this, Cronan had poor attendance and was frequently tardy. Cronan told his boss, O'Brian, about his medical condition in confidence, and O'Brian told his supervisor about Cronan's condition, who then told his supervisor.

Cronan was instructed to see the company doctor, whom he also disclosed his condition to. Cronan then received departmental sickness benefits, company-paid illness benefits, and, after receiving a note from his doctor stating that he was disabled, disability benefits.

Cronan's coworkers discovered that he had AIDS and started threatening to lynch him if he came back to work. Inappropriate graffiti was written on the bathroom stalls and employees insisted that the bathrooms be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Fearing bodily harm from his coworkers if he returned to work, Cronan asked to be transferred to a different facility, but received no response. NET sent a letter to Cronan offering him to return to his previous position, but did not mention the possibility of a new job assignment.

Cronan filed a lawsuit against NET stating that the company violated state privacy laws by disclosing Cronan's condition and that he was discriminated against because of his AIDS handicap. NET claimed that Cronan voluntarily disclosed his condition and no serious invasion of privacy had occurred. NET also claimed that Cronan did not suffer from a handicap.

When Cronan's disability benefits ran out in June 1986, he started receiving long-term disability benefits and was therefore no longer considered a NET employee. Cronan's long-term disability benefits and social security benefits were only half of his prior wages, so he desired to return to NET as a full time employee and pressed his attorney for a settlement. Cronan and NET reached a settlement allowing Cronan to return to work for NET at a different facility, as well as an undisclosed monetary settlement.

Cronan's coworkers were informed of his condition and received AIDS education from medical specialists. Many employees were fearful of Cronan and his disease and treated him like a leper. On Cronan's first day back he discovered anti-gay writing on an AIDS pamphlet in the bathroom. His coworkers protested his reinstatement and filed a grievance with their union. The next day, twenty-nine of thirty-nine employees refused to enter the building and left the premises.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

Issue: Was Cronan discriminated against because of his medical condition?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed to eliminate job discrimination from employers of more than fifteen people based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin . Since NET employs more than fifteen people, it must follow the provisions set forth by this law. In order for a suit concerning Title VII to be successful, Cronan needed to show that the actions taken by NET were likely based on an illegally discriminatory basis. Cronan needed to prove either disparate treatment or disparate impact. To prove disparate treatment, Cronan needed to show the NET intentionally discriminated against him, which did not occur in this case. To prove disparate impact, Cronan needed to show that NET's policies had a discriminatory effect on a group protected by Title VII . Since Cronan is not a protected class under the provisions of Title VII, this law does not apply to the case.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, at the time of this case, is the primary federal law protecting the disabled. The Rehabilitation Act requires that employers have a qualified affirmative action plan for hiring the disabled. This act applies only to companies doing business with the government with a contract over $2500, so NET would not qualify and therefore Cronan is not protected under this law .

In 1990, however, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects from discrimination on the basis of disability, and requires employers to make reasonable accommodation for disabled employees and customers . The ADA defines disability as "any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of an individual's major life activities" . Many courts have ruled that having AIDS qualifies as a handicap and persons living with AIDS are therefore covered under this act In the Cronan example, his coworkers' fear of working with him could severely affect his ability to work, and therefore he would be considered disabled and covered under this act. Unfortunately for Cronan, this law was passed after his lawsuit was settled.

Issue: Did NET violate state privacy laws by disclosing Cronan's condition?

According to NET, Cronan voluntarily disclosed his medical condition and no serious invasion of privacy occurred. Although Cronan asked that the discussion of his condition be held in the strictest confidence, O'Brian explained that it was company policy to disclose important matters involving an employee with his immediate supervisor.

The purpose of privacy laws is to encourage people to be honest about their medical history when speaking with physicians. Since O'Brian is not a medical professional, there is no assurance that a conversation between him and Cronan would be kept private, and therefore, no law was broken. Had the company doctor been the one to disclose Cronan's condition to the company, and not NET's management, then state privacy laws would have been broken.

Issue: Was Cronan subjected to sexual harassment after coworkers learned about his medical condition?

After coworkers discovered that Cronan was infected with AIDS, threats of lynching began to circulate and graffiti appeared on bathroom stalls. Some of the graffiti was related to Cronan's sexual preference such as "G.A.Y. -Got AIDS Yet?" and "Gays and bisexuals should be shipped to an island and destroyed."

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature . Sexual harassment can come in 2 forms: quid pro quo (giving sexual favors in return for promised benefits or threatened with loss) or a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment is defined as "one in which coworkers make offensive sexual comments

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