Reputation v. Character – Why that question matters in employment law.

John Wooden, one of the greatest coaches of all time, was famously quoted saying that “your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”  Often times companies and individuals running those companies are obsessed with their “reputation.”  They spend substantial amounts of money and time cultivating an image for public consumption, however, behind closed doors when no one is looking they act in a much different manner.  They are focused on building a reputation rather than cultivating a culture of integrity within the organization.

In almost every employment lawsuit, there is a clash between the perceived reputation of a business and its employees and the true culture of the workplace.  This conflict can cause companies to fire employees in retaliation for asserting valid claims of sexual harassment, race discrimination, or even whistleblowers.  It can also lead to pressure on employees to make poor decisions to “keep up the image.”  These companies do not have the internal character for true accountability even when it means doing the right thing in the face of adversity.  While they may tout their “policies” of equal-employment, workplace diversity and no-tolerance for bad behavior, they ultimately take the easy way out.

We also see the distinction of reputation and character in the era of the “me too movement.”  Powerful individuals with carefully constructed reputations often lead private dark lives of infidelity, sexual harassment, and even sexual assault.  Whether it is someone famous in Hollywood, an esteemed politician, or even a religious leader, we are often shocked when these secret lives of “reputable” men and women are exposed.  In my experience, it has been most surprising how enablers will protect and promote the reputation of these powerful individuals despite glaring evidence to the contrary.  While this lack of awareness is sometimes willful ignorance or deception, it may also be a result of the confusing line between where reputation stops and character begins.

In practicing employment law, we must constantly fight perception battles.  Our clients who come forward with discrimination and sexual harassment claims are often attacked by opposing counsel and their “reputation” is placed directly at issue.  Our firm focuses on advocating on behalf of these individuals and turning the tables on the wrongdoers.  We begin each and every investigation with the singular effort to determine the truth of the claim and hold those companies and individuals accountable for their actions.  In the end, the results for the client are what matter, but exposing the truth and character has its own intangible rewards.

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