Tri Counties slapped with sexual-harassment suit

A sexual-harassment case filed last December by a former female employee of Tri Counties Bank offices in Chico carries charges that echo from the mythical and male-dominated, corporate-office mentality of the 1950s and ‘60s, when women often were hired more for looks than abilities.

The case, filed by Brenda Dunn, names as defendants in her suit Tri Counties, its holding company Trico Bancshares Inc. and six male supervisors—Richard P. Smith, Darryl Kushner, Andrew Mastorakis, Richard O’Sullivan, Jim Jones and Gary Cuehlo.

Dunn, who was terminated by the bank last summer, says in the suit that Mastorakis, executive vice president of retail banking, and bank employee Karen Fields were engaged in a sexual relationship, “which caused Mastorakis (one of plaintiff’s superiors) to treat Ms. Fields with favoritism and preference to the detriment of plaintiff in her position and compensation as an employee of Tri Counties.”

Mastorakis’ attorney moved to have that part of the complaint stricken from the record because it invaded his privacy. But Dunn’s attorney, Alan Burchett, says Mastorakis failed to deny the affair took place, saying that he “just didn’t want it in there.” On Jan. 29 the court denied the motion.

The suit charges that Mastorakis told employees “to make false and misleading entries on sales records and reports in order to artificially increase sales figures and performance ratings for Karen Fields.”

Fields, the suit alleges, was compensated and credited for work actually performed by Dunn, and as a result the plaintiff “was denied compensation and career advancement to which she was entitled.”

The suit goes on to say that Richard O’Sullivan, one of the bank’s directors, was told of the affair and its detrimental impact but apparently failed to act.

The suit also charges: On June 16, 2003, Kushner, an equipment leasing specialist, called Dunn a “dumb bitch” twice in the presence of two other employees, and that on June 14, 2003, Dunn asked Jones, who worked in the Willows branch, to speak “in the interest of her future as an employee” during an employee meeting. Jones, the suit says, responded by telling the predominantly male audience “to the effect that if they would take a good-looking girl like [plaintiff] out on client calls, the client would not be able to say no because, well just look at her.”

On Sept. 11, Jones allegedly asked Dunn during a lunch meeting in Willows if the lunch was for her birthday. “Damn,” the court file reports him saying when told no, “I was hoping it was your birthday so I could spank you.”

In January of last year, according to the court file, Cuehlo, a bank director, met Dunn at the office door as she was coming in from the rain. She asked him not to touch her because she was wet. Cuehlo then asked her in a “leering manner” that was “suggestive and lascivious,” the suit says, “How wet are you? Are you really wet?”

Sometime in June of last year, the suit says, a co-worker found a photo on her desk of her daughter. Someone had drawn a penis going into the daughter’s mouth. She took it to the human resources officer, the suit says, who indicated this was not the first time such an incident had happened in the bank office. Dunn said she was bothered by the incident because she is the mother of a young girl.

“This lawsuit is about repeated instances of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination against a hard-working and well-qualified female employee who would not submit to a company culture laden with implied conditions that female employees need to sleep their way up the corporate ladder,” the suit says. “Plaintiff witnessed first hand how a woman sexually submitting to her boss boosted her status, financially and professionally.

“Plaintiff would not submit. As a result of that plaintiff suffered vulgar and degrading sexual remarks, her work was not valued, and she was denied compensation and career advancement to which she was entitled.”

Richard Smith said he could not comment on the case other than to say the bank was “happy to go to court.”

The case is set to resume March 12 in the courtroom of Judge Steven Howell.