A former president and two former vice presidents of Bank of Commerce of Stephens County have sued the bank, claiming they were wrongfully fired.
The suit, which appears in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, is filed by Hammons, Gowens, Hurst and Associates. It claims unlawful employment discrimination against plaintiffs Donald Alan Sing, Jeremy T. Montgomery and Brian D. Davis for “reporting and opposing sexual harassment in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 including its opposition clause … and age as prohibited by the ADEA [Age Discrimination in Employment Act] and Oklahoma’s Anti-Discrimination Act.” The lawsuit alleges two victims of sexual harassment.
In a statement from Bank of Commerce, the institution maintains it is “firmly committed to fairness and equality in the workplace and is an equal opportunity employer.
“This case deals with confidential personnel matters that Bank of Commerce is not at liberty to discuss in a public forum,” reads the statement. “However, the Bank welcomes the opportunity to present its case through the judicial process. We strongly believe the facts will show that Bank of Commerce did nothing wrong. Specifically, the employees at issue were not terminated as a result of harassment, retaliation or discrimination of any type.”
Sing, approximately 64 years old, was employed from 2012 until his termination in November 2018, according to the suit. Prior to his termination, Sing served as the president of the Bank of Commerce and was demoted to the position of president emeritus before he was let go. Montgomery, employed from December 2006 until his termination on the same day as Sing, served as the vice president consumer lender. Davis, employed from January 2016 until his termination in May 2018, served as the senior vice president/commercial lender and chief operations officer, though he also still serves as the Marlow Mayor.
All three plaintiffs, according to the suit, were “qualified” for the job and performed satisfactorily.
Sing, Montgomery and Davis, according to the lawsuit, “engaged in protected opposition to sexual harassment.”Around Aug. 1, 2017, Montgomery requested to speak with Sing regarding victim 1. Montgomery informed Sing victim 1 “had reported being subjected to sexual harassment and a sexual hostile working environment by J. Lynn Vaughn, vice chairman.” After the discussion with victim 1 and Montgomery, Sing reported the alleged complaints against Vaughn to Joe Morris, chairman and CEO, and also to Cindy Reynolds, senior vice president of human resources.
Around Aug. 15, 2017, a different employee, identified as victim 2, also reported “being subjected to sexual harassment and a sexual hostile working environment” by Vaughn. Again, this was reported to Montgomery, who reported it to Sing. These reports were carried to Morris by Sing and Reynolds, according to the suit.
Additional complaints of sexual harassment also were reported, according to the suit. The suit alleges sexual harassment against victim 1 from David Ferrell, market president for Grady and Caddo counties. Again, Sing reported the complaints to Morris. Immediately following these complaints, Morris approached Montgomery and “berated him for reporting the complaints” to Sing, who served as Montgomery’s direct supervisor, instead of reporting the victim’s complaints directly to Morris.
According to the suit, “the sexual harassment allegations were confirmed and Mr. Vaughn was allowed to retire.” Around February 2018, however, bank discussions revealed Vaughn might return to work for Bank of Commerce. Sing “immediately expressed his concerns that Mr. Vaughn’s return would create a hostile working environment for his victims.” After Sing’s comments, “Morris became enraged, while continuing to defend Mr. Vaughn’s inappropriate behavior and offensive conduct. Mr. Morris became increasingly confrontational and combative towards Mr. Sing, including but not limited to ignoring Mr. Sing, isolating Mr. Sing from work-related matters and not including Mr. Sing in casual conversations in the workplace.”
Around Feb. 13, 2018, Davis informed Morris a confidential source confirmed possible litigation over the matter, according to the suit. When Davis told Morris he would keep his source confidential, “Morris became extremely upset and stated ‘[T]hink about it and let me know by the end of the day of your decision to reveal the source.”
The next day, according to the suit, Sing advised Davis to reconsider providing Morris with the source of the information because “he (Mr. Morris) would hate to see that be a career-limiting decision for you.” When Davis again did not reveal his source, Morris allegedly “became increasingly confrontational and combative” toward Davis.
When the two victims heard of Vaughn’s return, they expressed concern about working in the same building with him. According to the suit, victim 1 was subject of an annual performance evaluation around this time by Morris without the assistance of her immediate supervisor and was “immediately removed” from the victim’s position and “reassigned and demoted” to a position in a separate building. Montgomery, Sing and Davis communicated they viewed this as “retaliatory treatment” of victim 1 and opposed the action.
Later in February, Morris sent an email to Reynolds to check in on victim 1 and her new position. The email, according to court records, shows Davis carbon copied in on it. Reynolds said the employee “seemed to have a good attitude” about the position and Morris allegedly responded and said to “[t]one down the praise” of the victim.
Around April 2018, victim 2 saw Vaughn in the bank and “became extremely uncomfortable and upset.” Victim 2 approached supervisor Davis and said she didn’t feel comfortable remaining in the same building as Vaughn, according to the suit.
Davis reported the complaints to Morris, who asked for a meeting with the victim regarding complaints against Vaughn. When the victim asked to relocate because she was uncomfortable working around Vaughn “due to his previous offensive and inappropriate behavior and remarks,” Morris allegedly said they could provide a temporary accommodation, though a “permanent accommodation would not be allowed” because Vaughn would be in the building frequently. According to the suit, Morris told the victim to “reconsider her employment” with Bank of Commerce if the victim could not deal with “Vaughn’s presence.” Again, Montgomery, Sing and Davis all believed this was retaliatory treatment of the victim and opposed the conduct.
In late April, Morris approached Davis and accused him of releasing the previously mentioned email to Victim 1. Davis denied this and as a result, Morris “became increasingly confrontational and combative,” according to the suit.
Around May 29, 2018, Ferrell, along with Reynolds, entered Davis’ office and informed him the Board of Directors decided to terminate his employment immediately “for alleged conduct that violated (Bank of Commerce) policies.” According to the suit, “the alleged violation was in accordance with the actual custom and practice of the Bank’s loan operations” and the termination was “discrimination and retaliation for his involvement in protected opposition to the sexual harassment” of employees.
Around June 2018, prior to the Board of Directors meeting, Morris informed Sing “he was implementing a new succession plan,” and that Sing would no longer be acting as bank president and instead fill the role of president emeritus. According to the suit, Sing had not received any verbal or written warnings and had not be counseled for work performance. Morris told Sing, “I just can’t communicate with you anymore.”
Morris also told Sing the decision regarding his employment came because Morris “was motivated in part by his desire for a younger employee” — identified as Ferrell— to assume the role of president. According to the suit, Morris continually asked Sing before his demotion and after his opposition to Vaughn returning “when are you going to retire” and made other comments. After his demotion, Sing also was removed from Bank of Commerce’s Compensation Committee.
Around July 2018, Morris also informed Sing they weren’t going to renew Sing’s employment agreement. Around Nov. 30, 2018, Morris, Reynolds and Ferrell, the new president, entered Sing’s office and told him Bank of Commerce wanted Sing to resign from the Bank and as a member of the Board of Directors because of a reduction in force. Sing did not resign, but was instead terminated. No reason was given for the termination, according to the suit.
The same day, Montgomery also was terminated because of the alleged reduction in force. According to the suit, the real reason for the dismissal of both Montgomery and Sing was because of “discrimination and retaliation” for opposition to sexual harassment of employees. The suit also cited age as a determining factor for Sing’s termination.
Each of the plaintiffs were listed as suffering “earnings lost, past, present and future” and “dignitary harms in the form of embarrassment, worry and like emotions.” The suit calls for compensation for lost earnings as well as punitive and actual damages, interest, cost and fees together with liquidated and punitive damages.