Federal judge keeps alive Paulina woman's retaliatory firing lawsuit against defunct Plattenville bank

By Karen Kidd | Nov 19, 2018


NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge has left intact part of a Paulina woman's wrongful termination lawsuit against a defunct Plattenville bank that allegedly fired her from her vice president position in 2016 following a $700,000 loss in the the bank's insurance division.

U.S. District Court Judge Carl Joseph Barbier, on the bench in Louisiana's Eastern District, granted portions of Iberville Bank's motion for summary judgment in reference to intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. In his 25-page order issued Nov. 7, the judge left intact portions of Jessica Kell's claims in her amended complaint that illegally retaliated against her for providing information to the FDIC.

Kell alleges her former employer's actions violated federal law and that the bank is liable under Louisiana Civil Code "for outrageous and harassing conduct" that caused her to suffer humiliation, embarrassment and anxiety.

"This case involves the termination of a bank's regulatory compliance officer, allegedly motivated in part by a desire to retaliate against the officer for whistle blowing on a fraud committed by an employee at the bank," Judge Barbier said in the background portion of his order. "The bank, Iberville Bank, is now defunct. Its successor is The First, a National Banking Association."

U.S. District Court Judge Carl Joseph Barbier   Wikipedia

Kell filed her lawsuit in February 2017 against Iberville Bank and its successor, First Bancshares, alleging Iberville Bank violated the Bank Secrecy Act. Kell, at the time authorized to submit suspicious activity reports, claims bank officers felled to tell her about the loss in the insurance division and, when she found out about it in October 2015, that she was instructed not to contact law enforcement. Kell claims she was placed on probation in February 2016 for pre-textual reasons and then terminated in March of the following year.

Kell, who was pregnant at the time, miscarried the day she was placed on probation, according to the order.

In its motion to dismiss, Iberville Bank argued, in part, that Kell could not prove that banking officials knew about her decision to contact the FDIC "regarding the alleged cover-up" and that she could not prove a pattern of repeated harassment. Kell countered, in part, that questions remain about what bank officials knew about her protected activity at the time she was fired and that the bank has failed to show they had "a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason" to fire her.

As part of his order granting and denying parts of motions in the case, Judge Barbier declined to allow Kell to add a state law whistle blower claim to her case. That claim would have expanded the litigation to include questions about Iberville Bank's insurance division manager connected to alleged bank fraud or theft.

"The court declines 'plaintiff's implicit request to expand the scope of this litigation at this late hour," the order said.

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