The question of whether the Miami branch manager of Spain’s Banco Pastor “extremely and outrageously” discriminated against an employee from Argentina was in the hands of a jury.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Darrin Gayles told jurors he would order pizza for dinner Friday, and no verdict was reached by deadline.
Junior loan officer Claudio Nieto claimed in his suit against the bank that he was sexually harassed, belittled in front of colleagues and customers, unfairly disciplined for mistakes and repeatedly harassed because of his Argentine accent. The suit claims that when Nieto complained about the harassment, bank officials failed to conduct a thorough investigation and instead fired him.
“The evidence is uncontroverted that he suffered,” Roderick Hannah of Davie, one of Nieto’s attorneys, told jurors Friday. “It was an impossible situation.”
But Judson Cohen, an attorney for the bank and branch manager Jose Fernandez Balado, gave a different picture during his closing, calling Nieto a constant complainer.
“There was no way they could keep him happy,” said Cohen, who with attorney Harry Turk also represents the branch’s human resources manager, Martha Gonzalez.
Nieto’s lawsuit said Fernandez called Nieto pregnant because he had a paunch, questioned his manhood when the two ran into each other in the men’s room, posted a picture of a Playboy Playmate on his computer while he was out to lunch, criticized his Argentine accent, referred to Argentines including bank customers as thieves and constantly criticized him over small mistakes that non-Argentine employees were not disciplined for.
The alleged harassment became more severe after Nieto complained to Gonzalez, Fernandez’s ex-wife.
The bank fired Nieto in June 2009, four days after he returned from a vacation he was ordered to take, Banco Pastor’s director of foreign operations, Jorge Juan Tapia Garcia testified. It also was a month after Nieto was hospitalized with chest pains when his boss screamed at him and threatened to fire him, the suit claimed.
Earlier this year, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ellen Sue Venzer ruled Nieto presented sufficient evidence “to provide a reasonable basis for the recovery of punitive damages” for his claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Also representing Nieto is attorney Pelayo Duran of Miami.
The suit seeks damages under state civil rights and whistle-blower laws.
Banco Popular Español, Spain’s fifth-largest bank by assets, took over Banco Pastor in a $1.7 billion deal this year. Another Popular Español subsidiary, TotalBank, has asked Florida and federal regulators for permission to absorb Banco Pastor’s Miami branch into its state-chartered community bank.
The Miami office serves the bank’s international customers. Argentines make up 20 percent to 30 percent of its clientele, Tapia Garcia testified.