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Paul Cronan And The New England Telephone Company

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CASE: Paul Cronan and New England Telephone Company (A)

I. LEGAL CASE ANALYSIS

A. Facts

Paul Cronan was hired by New England Telephone (NET) in 1973 as a file clerk. In 1983 he was promoted to service technician. He worked in Needham, Massachusetts for 18 months before transferring to South Boston, Massachusetts. In 1985, Cronan suffered from medical symptoms due to AIDS-related complex (ARC), and missed work sporadically for 6 months. In June, 1985 Cronan requested a third leave of absence from work for a doctor's appointment. Cronan's supervisor, Charles O'Brian, demanded to know the nature of the illness, and assured him that the information would be kept confidential. Cronan informed O'Brian that the illness was AIDS-related, whereupon he received the work excuse to see his doctor. O'Brien informed his supervisor, Paul Cloran, of Cronan's AIDS status, who in turn informed his own supervisor. The following day, in accordance with company policy, O'Brien mandated that Cronan see the company physician. After a 10 minute physical examination Cronan was sent home.

Two days later, a coworker informed Cronan that news of his AIDS-related illness had spread around his co-workers, and that threats of physical violence were made against Cronan should he return. Fearing for his safety and health, Cronan requested medical leave, which was granted. He began receiving company-paid medical benefits, first departmental sickness benefits, then illness benefits. Illness benefits were extended several times to 12 months total.

In August 1985, Cronan wished to return to work. His new supervisor, Richard Griffin, stated that in accordance with company policy a medical certificate from his physician certifying his ability to return to work was required. Cronan obtained the certificate but also requested a transfer to another location. He did not receive a response to his request and did not return to the South Boston facility, fearing that he would be physically harmed.

In September 1985, Cronan was hospitalized with AIDS. During this hospitalization he received a letter of condolence from Griffin offering a return to his previous position with no mention of a transfer or new assignment. In December 1985, Cronan filed a lawsuit assisted by the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts for $1.45 million in state court, alleging invasion of privacy and discrimination of a handicap.

In August of 1985, NET began to modify policies that reflected AIDS in the workplace. These policies stated that AIDS was to be treated as any other illness and an employee diagnosed with AIDS may return to work if he is not disabled. The policies were unanimously approved by management and added to the corporate policy handbooks. No formal dissemination of these policies to the rank and file workers was made.

In June 1986, Cronan was informed that his illness benefits had ceased and he was now only entitled to long term disability payments, having effectively been terminated from NET. Due to financial hardships, Cronan and NET came to a settlement agreement in October 1986. Cronan was reinstated in his job and transferred to the Needham, Massachusetts facility. The financial details remained sealed.

Immediately upon his return to work at Needham, Cronan was subjected to harassment and hostility from the coworkers. The workers filed a union grievance stating that the reinstatement of Cronan violated their safety and health agreement in their labor contract. The next day the coworkers refused to be in contact with Cronan and 29 workers staged a walk-out.

B. Critical Legal Issues

1. Privacy - Cronan's privacy may have been violated when the news of his medical condition was revealed to the line management and subsequently to the coworkers.

2. Discrimination - Cronan's diagnosis of AIDS could conceivably fall under the category of a disability, therefore the treatment he received from NET and the coworkers could be construed as frankly discriminatory.

3. Sexual Harassment - Cronan's treatment at the hands of his coworkers might broadly be construed as sexual harassment due to his homosexuality.

4. Disability - AIDS might be considered a disability so that employer discrimination based on such a disability may be a violation of the law.

C. Legal Rules

1. Privacy.

Massachusetts General Law (G.L. c. 214, § 1B) Right of Privacy, states "A person shall have a right against unreasonable, substantial or serious interference with his privacy."

2. Discrimination.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits job discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, except when there are bona fide occupational qualifications reasonably necessary to normal business operations. Under the disparate treatment doctrine, the employee must provide evidence that the employer intentionally discriminated against the employee. Under the disparate impact doctrine, the employee must prove that the employer's policies had a discriminatory effect on a group protected under title VII.

3. Sexual Harassment.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on sex. A hostile work environment is prohibited even if no economic loss occurs and is considered discrimination under Title VII ((477 U.S. 57 (1986) Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson.))

4. Disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination in employment based on medical disability was not ratified until 1990. No relief for discrimination in employment based on a disease such as AIDS was available in 1986.

D. Observations

Cronan had a right to expect privacy in his workplace under Massachusetts law - the right against unreasonable, substantial or serious interference with his privacy. He complied with the request to divulge his medical illness to his line management, expecting that the information would be kept strictly confidential. Although not in the same vein as one expects in the confessional from a priest or professionally as with a physician

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