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Top Lessons for In-House Counsel From Major Corporate Scandals

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 26, 2016 12:59 PM

God bless the corporate scandal. Not only does it provide a bit of voyeuristic schadenfreude, it's a valuable teaching moment. "See kids, don't do what that white collar criminal did." And whether it's a Bank of America executive's claims that the bank has become a sexist "bro's club" or the continued fallout from Volkswagen's emissions fraud, there's plenty of lessons to be learned these days.

Here are some of our top corporate scandal takeaways for GC's and in-house counsel, from the FindLaw archives.

1. Female Exec at BoA Sues, Alleges 'Bro's Club', Lies, Butt-Kissing

In one of the more recent episodes of corporate public embarrassment, a high-ranking female executive at Bank of America filed suit against her former employer, alleging that the bank had been swarmed by a "subordinate 'bro's club' of all-male sycophants." But while the high-fiving frat bros may make headlines, the strength of the suit comes largely from its allegations of "egregious pay disparity" of a whopping $10 million.

2. In-House Attorneys' Duty to Report Problems up the Food Chain

Remember the General Motor's faulty ignition switch debacle? It led to over 100 deaths and could end up costing GM north of $1 billion in suits and settlements. But it also exposed the roll in-house counsel had in resisting corrective action. If there's a lesson to be had, it's that in-house attorneys need to be more proactive in escalating potentially damaging problems up the chain of command.

3. What GCs Can Learn From FIFA's Bribery and Corruption Scandal

Last summer, Swiss police arrested seven FIFA execs on charges of "rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted" corruption throughout the governing body of international soccer. And even if you can't tell football from synchronized swimming, the scandal has plenty of lessons for in-house attorneys, especially those dealing in international business.

4. When Companies Do Wrong, DOJ Will Hold Individuals Responsible

Corporate scandals don't just provide lessons to CG's, they're great learning ground for federal prosecutors. And after the criticism the government took for their handling (or mishandling) of Wall Street rule breaking during the mortgage crisis, the DOJ has changed tack, announcing it will avoid settling and increase prosecutions of individual wrongdoers.

5. Lessons From Volkswagen's Emissions Fraud Disaster

For years, Volkswagen pulled the wool over the eyes of regulators and the public, marketing its cars as "clean diesel" and manipulating testing results, all the while spewing out pollution 40 times the legal limit. Until they were found out.

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