Dawn Lepore

By Mark Leslie, Sara Rosenthal
2015 | Case No. E576 Background | Length 2 pgs.

The Dawn Lepore case presents a series of dilemmas that one woman, Dawn Lepore, deals with in her professional career that present her with a series of challenging issues.  The case starts off with background (to be read before class) about Dawn’s early career up to the point where she joins the IT group at Charles Schwab in the early 1980s.  In Part A of the case (handed out in class), students are presented with Dawn’s first dilemma.  She and her husband both work in Schwab’s IT group, and when a new CIO joins the firm, he shares with Dawn that she has tremendous potential, but he is concerned that working side-by-side with her husband could hold her back. She must now face the question of how to respond to the CIO on an issue that crosses personal and professional lines, as well as decide whether and how to communicate this information to her husband.

In Part B, Dawn has joined Drugstore.com as its CEO, after having served as Schwab’s CIO for several years.  In her first few months with Drugstore.com, Dawn has a premonition which leads her to schedule a colonoscopy, the results of which identify a rare cancer of the appendix.  On the day that Dawn and her CFO are scheduled to meet with several investors in San Francisco, Dawn is also waiting to hear back about the results of her lab test that will indicate the severity of her illness.  She is justifiably preoccupied and anxious, and must decide whether or not to share the news with her CFO or not.  Further, the case asks students to consider the various stakeholders with whom Dawn must share the information about her diagnosis, and how much information she must share.

Finally, Part C finds Dawn two years after the surgery to remove her appendix, after which she was given a clean bill of health.  However, one afternoon in her office, she receives a call from her husband, who has been diagnosed with his own form of cancer: multiple myeloma.  Her husband will need to undergo extensive treatment, including a bone marrow transplant, which will involve a several-week-long hospital stay.  As the sole breadwinner in the family at this point, Dawn must balance her responsibility to provide health insurance for her family with the need to care for her husband and two young children, while also upholding the responsibilities as the CEO of a public company.  When a friend calls to check in on her and voices concern about how she is managing to keep all the balls in the air, Dawn has to take a hard look at herself to see whether she is truly able to “do it all.

Learning Objective

This case is taught in a Real Life Ethics class, which presents students with the types of questions they will face in a professional setting that force them to make an ethical decision. While the vignettes in the Dawn Lepore case aren’t conventional “ethical” dilemmas, they are representative of the types of decisions one must make when there is no black and white but only grey. For example, what are Dawn’s duties to her husband, children, and company when she is faced with her own illness? How does that differ when her husband is the one who has been diagnosed with cancer? What are her board’s responsibilities? Is there a right answer? What must she tell her board? Can she tell her employees something different or nothing at all? These are the types of questions she must face as she wrestles with maintaining her own privacy in the face of challenging personal health issues, while also having to uphold her professional responsibilities.

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