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Suit by former Valley Republic employee says she was fired after requesting permission to work from home | News

A former employee of Valley Republic Bank has filed a lawsuit accusing the Bakersfield-based institution of wrongful termination after she presented a doctor’s order that her medical condition required her to work from home three to four days per week during the pandemic.

Tina Valentine’s suit alleges the bank fabricated concerns about her sharing confidential information with its customers, including discussing a federal regulatory investigation.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Kern County Superior Court, seeks $960,174.98 in compensatory damages, as well as general, special, punitive and statutory damages, plus interest.

The bank’s top executive, in an email Monday, categorically denied Valentine’s allegations and countered that Valley Republic has not been involved in any investigations as described in the lawsuit. He declined to comment on the suit.

“That said, the bank can confirm that no employees have ever been terminated due to a disability and that the bank has a robust practice of accommodating employees based on all protected classifications, including disability,” President and CEO Geraud Smith wrote. “The bank is eager to defend these frivolous claims and has no doubt that it will prevail.”

Valentine’s case involves a mix of allegations dealing with not only her time away from work and her request for medical-related accommodations, which she maintains were ignored, but also claims she received raises and generally positive reviews despite supervisors’ repeated warnings she was making too many mistakes on the job.

Besides the bank and its holding company, defendants named in the suit are Smith, Senior Vice President Janet Hepp, Human Resources Vice President Marcy Unruh and Valentine’s former supervisor Ryan Leonard.

The suit says Valentine’s first performance review after she started at Valley Republic in 2013 reflected her demonstrated commitment to delivering a high level of service, and said the quality of her work had improved.

Her second review a year later said she should spend more time double-checking document checklists but made no mention of errors. A third annual review called for greater attention to detail on her part but added her work had exceeded expectations.

Valentine’s fourth review declared her a reliable employee anxious to help the bank and its customers, according to the lawsuit. It said she asked her supervisors for more training to help improve her skills and accuracy. Although no performance rating was included in the review, the suit added that she got a 3-percent raise.

A fifth annual review said she got no raise because she had made “errors and omissions.” Little information about her next review was included in the lawsuit, though it states she was given a 1.5-percent raise.

In 2019, it says, Valentine received a first disciplinary warning because of what the bank termed “excessive absences” that the lawsuit says had been approved by her supervisors. After she missed 255 hours because of a combination of factors such as illness, vacation time, unpaid absence and bereavement, it says, the bank suggested she file claims under the Family Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act.

In May 2020 Valentine notified the bank she had been diagnosed with lupus. The lawsuit says the company ignored her request for permission to work from home as a way of protecting her compromised immune system. Later that month she was disciplined for allegedly not doing her job.

In August 2020 she was accused of making mistakes she alleges stemmed from her medical condition along with changes made by one of the bank’s borrowers. But she acknowledged overlooking an invoice and said in the lawsuit that based on that one error she was fired.

Later that month the lawsuit claims the bank contacted her to tell her to stop contacting former customers to discuss her employment with the bank, and that she was told state law forbids disclosing confidential trade secrets. The suit says the bank accused her of giving out information about an investigation by federal regulators looking at possible violations by Valley Republic.

Valentine countered that she had developed personal relationships with her former customers and that she was requesting personal references and career advice without giving up confidential information.

Valley Republic is in the process of being acquired by Chico-based TriCo Bancshares in a $166 million stock deal expected to close by the end of this year.

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