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The old switcheroo: the curious phenomenon of sexual-harassment-defendant name changes after litigation

In the early 2000s, iconic cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris underwent a "rebranding" that included a name change to "Altria." Some viewed the move as a thinly veiled effort to associate with altruism a company that made some of the deadliest products in human history, and to give consumers the sense that the company was good. The name change took place amidst a flurry of litigation accusing the company of lying to consumers about cigarettes' cancerous effects and addictiveness.

But Big Tobacco isn't the only place where folks might be looking to shed old baggage...

HMC Group, a trade name of the Head Mercantile Company, was a defendant in a sexual-harassment-and retaliation case that Chandra Law filed in 2014. Barcklay, et al. v. Head Mercantile Co., et al., Cuyahoga County Case No. 14-cv-829928. HMC Group is a debt-collection company that primarily works with hospitals. Chandra Law represented a former HMC account manager who alleged that HMC Executive Vice President John Prologo sexually assaulted and harassed her. She was fired, the complaint alleged, after she reported the abuse to HMC's co-owners.

After the litigation resolved, HMC Group changed its name to SOS Group.

One would assume that the acronym "SOS," for "Strategic Outsourcing Solutions," was apparently unintentionally ironic, despite the fact that it also represents the international signal for extreme distress. (Google searches for HMC Group and John Prologo yield information about the allegations.)

The name-change phenomenon is not limited to companies.

In 2013, Chandra Law sued Lawrence Mitchell, who at the time was the Case Western Reserve University Law School's dean. Ku v. Mitchell, et al., Cuyahoga County Case No. 13-cv-815935. The plaintiff, a Case law professor and associate dean, alleged that Mitchell retaliated against him for reporting multiple instances of sexual harassment against female faculty and staff. During the litigation, Mitchell stepped down as dean.

After the litigation was resolved, Mitchell went on sabbatical, then resigned, and recently underwent a legal name change.

According to Mitchell's blog, he changed his name to Ezra Wasserman Mitchell. In his post, he describes the genesis of his decision to make the switch―referring to himself as a "Jewish Kunte [sic] Kinte"―and explaining that he has "reached the point where [he's] not worried about losing [his] scholarly or poetic reputations."

It strains credulity to suggest that the retaliation suit and accompanying media coverage―which included reports of retaliation for reporting sexual misconduct, threesome propositions to employees and students, and an improper sexual relationship with a student―sullying Mitchell's reputation, did nothing to precipitate his name change.

An entire industry exists around internet-reputation management. Such companies' techniques include issuing bogus press releases discussing innocuous good works, in an effort to overwhelm natural Google results.

But there is some behavior that all the reputation-management efforts in the world cannot erase.

The Chandra Law Firm advocates tirelessly on behalf of its sexual-harassment and other civil-rights clients to hold defendants accountable. Our goal at every step is always to expose the truth.

Sometimes, the notoriety that results from that effort requires a name change.

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