You might have already seen the story in the national headlines. (If you haven’t, you can read it by clicking here.) The short version goes something like this:
Conal O’Rourke held a non-accounting staff position at PricewaterhouseCoopers. O’Rourke had a problem with his Comcast service and bill. Specifically, he was charged nearly $2,000 for equipment he never received and didn’t need. Needless to say, O’Rourke lodged a complaint with Comcast. Despite the fact that the charges were removed, his account still went to collections. As a result, O’Rourke had to complain again. (Who wouldn’t?)
Eventually, the matter was cleared up. A happing ending, right? Unfortunately not. O’Rourke was later fired by PricewaterhouseCoopers, with company officials stating that an investigation determined that “he had violated its standards and practices.” What’s the connection? PricewaterhouseCoopers does consulting work for Comcast….to the tune of about $30M a year. Comcast has publicly apologized for poor service but O’Rourke has filed a lawsuit alleging defamation and other charges
Did O’Rourke have a legitimate complaint? It certainly seemed that way. Was O’Rourke fired because he escalated his complaint to an executive within Comcast who discovered that he worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers? It’s become a case of “he said, they said,” but it’s also a case where it’s fairly easy to connect the dots.
What does this have to do with Consulting Engineering? It poses an interesting ethical question: could this same scenario happen with an ENR Top 500 consulting engineering firm? For instance, let’s say that engineering firm does consulting business with a national client, such as Wal-Mart or Coca-Cola. What happens if a Civil Engineer who works for that firm slips and falls and sustains an injury at Wal-Mart . . . and that injury is a direct result of negligence on the part of Wal-Mart? What if that Civil Engineer decides to sue Wal-Mart? What if a Wal-Mart executive discovers that he works for said engineering firm? Can Wal-Mart put pressure on the firm to fire this employee if he pursues the lawsuit?
Okay, that’s more than one question, but you get the idea.
Business relationships between consulting firms and powerful companies operating on a national level can cause potential complications such as these. At the very least, if you work for a consulting firm, you should know the specific companies with which your employer has a business relationship. Because ethical or not, these things can happen, even if there’s a very real and strong possibility that you haven’t done anything wrong.
Just ask Conal O’Rourke.
What do you think about this story? Do you believe O’Rourke was fired for complaining about his Comcast bill? Or is there more to the story? I invite you to share your thoughts.