This comes from the Columbia University website: “As an equal opportunity and affirmative action employer, the University does not discriminate against or permit harassment of employees or applicants for employment on the basis of race, color, sex, gender (including gender identity and expression), pregnancy, religion, creed, national origin, age, alienage and citizenship, status as a perceived or actual victim of domestic violence, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, military status, partnership status, genetic predisposition or carrier status, arrest record, or any other legally protected status.”

Case Study 1 Questions

  1. Looking at this list of characteristics that Columbia doesn’t discriminate against, can you quickly put in your own words what each of them means, or are some ambiguous? If there is ambiguity, is that an ethical problem?
  2. What’s the difference between unintentional and intentional discrimination?
    • Are some of these characteristics more vulnerable than others to unintentional discrimination? Which ones? Why?
    • Are some of these characteristics more vulnerable than others to intentional discrimination? Which ones? Why?
  3. Which of the protected characteristics are concealable, meanings that in most cases a job applicant could fairly easily hide or not reveal whether he or she has the trait? Which aren’t so concealable?
  4. Which characteristics are universal (we’re all afflicted and therefore vulnerable to discrimination) and which ones are individual (some of us have the trait and some don’t)? In your opinion is one group more vulnerable to discrimination? Why?
  5. If you wanted to stop discrimination at Columbia University, could you rank the protected characteristics in terms of their importance? Which forms of discrimination would be most important to combat and which wouldn’t matter so much? Or are they all equally important? Justify your answer.
  6. Are there any characteristics you would add to the list? In terms of doing ethics, is there any problem with a list this long?
  7. Are there any characteristics that really shouldn’t be on the list? Which ones? Why?
  8. Hypothetically, John Smith has applied for a maintenance post at Columbia. The job entails routine and emergency plumbing and fixing of general problems, everything from burned-out light bulbs to graffiti. More or less, the job is to walk around and make sure things are in working order. He’d be working the night shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. His assigned buildings would be a classroom and three coed dorms. He has been arrested three times for attempted rape of young women, but there was never enough evidence to convict.
    • Susan Rieger heads the Columbia University employment office. It’s part of her job to defend the school’s policies. In ethical terms, how do you suppose she might defend Columbia’s refusal to discriminate on the basis of arrest record?


9.   Columbia won’t discriminate on the basis of religious belief. Historically, some creeds have been singled out more than others for abuse, but one that’s not often found on the list of mistreatment is Haitian Voodoo. Houngan Hector of New Jersey identifies himself as an asogwepriest of Haitian voodoo. His story is interesting. He claims to have been “mounted” by an ancestor at the age of seven, and so began his spiritual journey. Eventually, it led Houngan Hector to perform spiritual cleansings for money. They haven’t always gone well. According to this newspaper story in the Philadelphia Daily News: “Lucille Hamilton paid $621 to have her ‘spiritual grime’ removed by voodoo high priest Houngan Hector in an ordinary townhouse in Camden County. Hamilton, 21, a male living as a woman, flew in on Friday from her home in Little Rock, Arkansas to take part in the three-day spiritual cleansing. By Saturday night Hamilton was dead, and authorities are awaiting results of an autopsy and toxicology tests to determine exactly what happened.”[1]

Here’s Houngan Hector’s advertisement for his services on his MySpace page, as it was reported in Odd Culture: “I have over 15 years of experience helping individuals resolve their issues, and well over 9 years of helping people through the means of the Haitian Voodoo tradition. Having gotten individuals out of jail, brought lovers back, and improved people’s financial situation, I keep myself humble remembering it is not I who does it. It is God and Ginen who resolves.” [2]

The three basic ethical arguments against discrimination (and, in this case, discrimination based on personal religious belief) are fairnessrights, and utilitarianism.

  • Choose one and make the case that Houngan Hector—who was never charged with any crime—should be treated like any other applicant for a job at Columbia University.
  • Can any of the three arguments be used to show that discriminating against Haitian voodoo believers is ethically acceptable, even recommendable?
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