A former employee is suing Washington-based Adams National Bank, charging wrongful termination and claiming that Adams executives are derailing his efforts to launch a new bank.
Thomas O. Griel, onetime senior vice president and lending officer at $128 million-asset Adams, filed suit in District of Columbia Superior Court. He is asking for $2 million of damages from the bank and its former chairwoman, Barbara Blum.
Mr. Griel claimed that the bank fired him because his rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments were too costly to its health insurance, an alleged violation of the District of Columbia's Human Rights Act.
But Kathleen Carr, Adams' president, said Mr. Griel was let go "for more than just cause." She said this cause will be made public at the trial.
Meanwhile, Mr. Griel's attorney, Dale E. Sanders, said he is preparing a second lawsuit in connection with a start-up bank Mr. Griel is organizing in Washington.
The planned institution, America's First Bank, has struggled in the past year to raise start-up capital, in part, Mr. Griel claimed, because Adams has smeared his name and spooked some would-be investors. Mr. Sanders said he plans to file this second complaint within 60 days.
The discrimination case dates from 1995, when Mr. Griel was diagnosed with arthritis. A delayed diagnosis and intense pain led him to make multiple doctor visits during 1995 and 1996, the complaint stated.
In 1996 Ms. Blum began interviewing candidates for a newly created chief lending officer post without Mr. Griel's knowledge, the suit alleged. He said applicants were told the bank wanted to replace him because "he had been sick a lot and missed work."
Later, Ms. Blum and Ms. Carr - who was then chief lending officer - led a campaign to force his resignation, Mr. Griel alleged, humiliating him in front of co-workers and at board meetings. They also cut his salary.
July 22, 1997, Mr. Griel said, he returned to work after missing a week to have his gall bladder removed. The day he returned, he was fired.
The suit contended that Adams has a history of discrimination. It cited an incident in 1992, when it said the bank fired three employees "who happened to be the most frequent users of health insurance benefits" on the payroll. All three sued; two won in court, and the third settled before trial.
Mr. Griel's suit is the latest chapter in what has been an eventful year for Adams National. Shareholders removed Ms. Blum from the chairmanship in May, after the bank's planned merger with another local institution fell through. The acquisition was blocked by a controlling shareholder of the bank.
Two other suits have been filed since May, both claiming that the shareholders who led the coup against Ms. Blum did so in violation of Securities and Exchange Commission regulations. Both of these suits are pending.
Mr. Sanders said it could be two years before Mr. Griel's case is resolved. A hearing is scheduled Oct. 30.
Meanwhile, Mr. Griel continues to look for investors in America's First. Mr. Sanders said organizers are currently talking to two potential backers.
Ms. Carr denied that she or anyone else at the bank is influencing investors. "We are much too busy here to pay any attention to Tom Griel," she said.
Jon D. Holtaway, senior vice president at Danielson & Associates Inc., a Rockville, Md., investment banking firm, said it is not uncommon for downtown banks to have trouble courting investors.
Though he stressed that he is unfamiliar with the details of this case, Mr. Holtaway said many urban banks, if they sell, are viewed as not having the same potential premium as their suburban counterparts.
"It detracts from the value of the franchise," he said.