By now, we have all heard about the sex scandal at Penn State. An assistant coach, who retired a number of years ago, has been indicted on multiple counts for having inappropriate relations with a number of children. The President has been fired. Joe Paterno, one of the legends of college football, has been fired. A Vice President has been fired. An athletics director has been fired. A riot in the streets of State College. Death threats. Embarrassment. Humiliation. Loss of reputation as one of the school's that "did things the right way". And the gift that keeps on giving this holiday season: continuous coverage of a bad situation that seems to make it worse. And the negative coverage will continue for the foreseeable future. On a legal note, the indicted ex-coach is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The investigations will continue, and we may never know the true story of what happened, who know about it, and when they found out. So, what can we learn from what is happening at Penn State? First, it is important to have the appropriate policies and procedures in place. Second, follow the policies and procedures. Third, train everyone, from the President (who has been fired) to the janitor (who may not have reported what he saw in a locker room at Penn State for fear of losing his job). Fourth, take all reports of inappropriate conduct seriously, and the more severe the alleged conduct, the more serious the treatment. Fifth, have a public relations plan in place to deal with a crisis such as this. The President "unconditionally supporting" the vice president and athletics director was probably one of the main reasons he was fired. Sixth, document what actions are taken once a report is made, who is interviewed, what they said, the disciplinary action taken, if any, and more training to make sure it doesn't happen again.
In Alabama, a named partner at one of Montgomery's oldest law firms, pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography in one of the largest such cases in Alabama. Investigators found over 200,000 images and 8,000 videos of child pornography on the lawyer's home computer. He admitted to sharing images over 600 times. He was also on the Board of Trustees of a religious school, and worked with youth at a local church. There was no indication that any of the students at the school or youth at the church were part of the child pornography.
Practice pointer. Although these are extreme examples of abhorrent conduct, the lesson to be learned is that anyone can engage in or be accused of engaging in inappropriate and illegal conduct. Both these cases involve well respected, hard working, pillars of their communities. Yet many victims have been harmed, and many others have lost their jobs, been embarrassed and humiliated, and will live the rest of their lives with a soiled reputation. Employers should have the appropriate policies and procedures, they must be followed, everyone must be trained and there must be a crisis management plan in place should the worst happen.