It is convenient to operate under the assumption that Search Engine Optimization is purely an IT function best left for the nerdy guy in the computer room. It is similarly tempting to think of SEO as a marketing responsibility and push all accountability onto the folks responsible for those tasks.
I'll bet the Senior Executives at JC Penny wish they had a better handle on what SEO was all about and what their company was doing to boost Natural search presence before their fiasco last week. As it turned out, the agency representing them was apparently using tactics that were well outside the scope of what Google considered a "best practices" approach for SEO.
Google has evolved to hold a position of importance that is unmatched in the annals of business / marketing history. For Internet Marketers, short of a company being shut down by the IRS, FTC or SEC, it's hard to think of a fate more potentially harmful than receiving a penalty from Google.
If you have any doubts as to whether your company is engaged in activities that Google considers Black Hat, now is the time to dig beneath the surface to figure it out. Regardless of whether you handle SEO in-house or through an agency, it is essential to ensure that you are not cutting corners that trade short term gains for long term hardship.