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The Lisa Lightner Incident

A few months after Margaret Goodearl started her new position, she was presented with a difficult problem: one of the girls, Lisa Lightner, came to her desk crying. She was in tears and trembling because Donald LaRue had forcefully insisted that she pass a chip that she was sure had failed the test she was running.

Lightner ran the hermeticity test on the chips. The chips were enclosed in a metal container, and one of the questions was whether the seal to that container leaked or not. From her test, she was sure that the chip was a "leaker" -- the seal was not airtight and water and corrosion could seep in over time and damage the chip. She came to Goodearl for advice. Should she do what LaRue said and pass a chip she knew was a leaker?

Goodearl suggested they take the chip together to the Quality Assurance people and tell them the story. Quality Assurance (QA) was the group whose job was to oversee the manufacture and testing of the chips. They had the authority to make this decision. Goodearl knew one of the people in QA, Ruth Ibarra. After consulting with Ibarra, Goodearl and Lightner decided to keep the chip for the moment and make an appointment with Karl Reismueller, the head of the entire Division of Microelectronics.

They were not successful, and were told they would need to go through channels. They did get a meeting with Richard Himmel, the manager of the Microelectronics Circuit Product Line. Lightner was afraid for her job, because LaRue had told her she would lose it if she disobeyed him. Himmel assured her that her job was safe, and told her she should try to work with LaRue. Still, he said, she was not required to pass parts that she knew did not pass the tests.

Lightner was somewhat calmed by this conversation, but Goodearl's life got worse rapidly. Goodearl got a call less than an hour later from a very upset manager, Frank Saia. Saia was the direct supervisor for LaRue, and thus also Goodearl's supervisor. Saia was known for his temper and displays of anger, and after letting her know how unhappy he was, he demanded to know "who the damn squealer was out there. If I don’t hear from you by 4 o'clock on this, you're fired." Just before she took that call, she has walked by Saia's office and seen LaRue leaving it, crying. Clearly things were bad.

Later that afternoon, she received a phone call from Jim Temple, an assistant manager under Saia. Temple reminded her of her immigrant status, and said that meant that if she was fired, she would likely end up cleaning toilets for a living.

Later that week, there was a large meeting of all the "girls" and management. The testers were told that they needed to obey LaRue, but that no one would be asked to do anything against the rules. Clearly, to management, the incident was over. The original chip, by the way, was given back to Don LaRue, who passed it.