Speaking Out about Malt;
CA SE 8.3 Speaking Out about Malt
WHEN MARY DAVI S, ASSOCIATE VICE PRE SIDENT for plant management at Whitewater Brewing Company,
wrote an article for a large metropolitan newspaper in her state, she hadn’t realized where it would lead.
At first she was thrilled to see her words published. Then she was just worried about keeping her job. It
all started when her husband, Bob, who was working on his MBA, talked her into taking an evening class
with him. She did and, to her surprise, really got into the course, spending most of her weekends that
semester working on her term project— a study of wine and beer marketing. Among other things her
essay discussed those respectable wine companies like E. & J. Gallo ( the nation’s largest) that market
cheap, forti-fied wines such as Thunderbird and Night Train Express. With an alcohol content 50 percent
greater and a price far less than regular wine, these screw- top wines are seldom advertised and rarely
seen outside poor neighborhoods, but they repre-sent a multimillion dollar industry. Skid- row winos are
their major consumers, a fact that evidently embarrasses Gallo, because it doesn’t even put its company
name on the label. 86 Mary’s essay went on to raise some moral questions about the marketing of malt
liquor, a beer brewed with sugar for an extra punch of alcohol. It has been around for about forty years;
what is relatively new is the larger size of the container. A few years ago, the industry introduced malt
liquor in 40- ounce bottles that sell for about three dollars. Packing an alcohol content roughly
equivalent to six 12- ounce beers or five cocktails, 40s quickly became the favorite high of many inner-
city teenagers. Ads for competing brands stress potency—“ It’s got more” or “ The Real Power”— and
often use gang slang. Get “ your girl in the mood quicker and get your jimmy thicker,” raps Ice Cube in a
commercial for St. Ides malt liquor. Like baggy pants and baseball caps turned back-ward, 40s soon
moved from the inner city to the suburbs. Teenage drinkers like the quick drunk, and this worries drug
counselors. They call 40s “ liquid crack” and “ date rape brew.” 87 Mary’s instructor liked her article and
encouraged her to rewrite it for the newspaper. The problem was that Whitewater also brews a malt
liquor, called Rafter, which it had recently started offering in a 40- ounce bottle. True, Mary’s article
mentioned Whitewater’s brand only in passing, but top man-agement was distressed by her criticisms of
the whole indus-try, which, they thought, damaged its image and increased the likelihood of further
state and federal regulation. The board of directors thought Mary had acted irresponsibly, and Ralph
Jenkins, the CEO, had written her a memo on the board’s behalf instructing her not to comment publicly
about malt liquor without first clearing her remarks with him. Mary was hurt and angry. “ I admit that
the way the newspaper edited my essay and played up the malt liquor aspect made it more
sensationalis-tic,” Mary explained to her colleague Susan Watts, “ but every-thing I said was true.” “ I’m
sure it was factual,” replied Susan, “ but the company thought the slant was negative. I mean, lots of
ordinary peo-ple drink Rafter.” “ I know that. Bob even drinks it sometimes. I don’t know why they are so
upset about my article. I barely mentioned Rafter. Anyway, it’s not like Rafter is a big moneymaker.
Most of our other beers outsell it.” “ Well,” continued Susan, “ the company is really touchy about the
whole issue. They think the product is under politi-cal attack these days and that you were disloyal.”
That’s not true,” Mary replied. “ I’m no troublemaker, and I have always worked hard for Whitewater. But
I do think they and the other companies are wrong to market malt liquor the way they do. It only makes
a bad situation worse.” The next day Mary met with Ralph Jenkins and told him that she felt Whitewater
was “ invading,” as she put it, her rights as a citizen. In fact, she had been invited to speak about wine
and beer marketing at a local high school as part of its antidrug campaign. She intended to keep her
speaking engagement and would not subject her remarks to company censorship. Jenkins listened but
didn’t say much, simply repeating what he had already written in his memo. But two days later Mary
received what was, in effect, an ultimatum. She must either conform with his original order or submit her
DI SCU SSION QUE STION S
1. Do you think Mary Davis acted irresponsibly or disloyally? Does Whitewater have a legitimate
concern about her speaking out on this issue? Does the company have a right to abridge her freedom of
2. Is your answer to question 1 affected by whether you agree or disagree with the views Mary Davis
3. Should there be any limits on an employee’s freedom of expression? If not, why not? If so, under what
circum-stances is a company justified in restricting an employee’s right to speak out?
4. The case presentation doesn’t specify whether the newspaper article identified Mary Davis as an
employee of Whitewater. Is that a relevant issue? Does it matter what position in the company Mary
5. What do you think Mary Davis ought to do? What moral considerations should she weigh? Does she
have conflict-ing obligations? If so, what are they?
6. Is the company right to be worried about what Mary Davis writes or says, or is the board of directors
exaggerating the potential harm to Whitewater of her discussing these issues?
7. Assume a CEO like Ralph Jenkins is legitimately worried that an employee is making damaging
statements about the company. How should the CEO handle the situation? Is discharge or some sort of
discipline called for? Should the company adopt a formal policy regarding employee speech? If so, what
policy would you recommend?
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