The Termination and Charges.
In January, 2013, Bank of America terminated Salma Aghmane, a vice president, claiming it had “conclusive” evidence of the wrongdoing. The Bank immediately reported her to Arizona-based Early Warning Services L.L.C. – known as “EWS” – which maintained a database of bank employees who were fired for knowingly causing financial loss. The effect of Banks’ reporting Aghmane to EWS was devastating for Aghmane. Despite the termination, Aghmane, a standout, top-performing employee, was quickly hired in an even better position at Chase Bank. But when it learned that Bank of America had put Aghmane on the EWS criminal blacklist, Chase withdrew its offer leaving Aghmane unemployed for an extended period and ultimately forced to accept a lower-level position with a smaller regional bank.
After two years of litigation. the United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted the Bank of America a partial summary judgment against Aghmane, essentially ending her case.
Ms. Aghmane’s attorneys at Aiman-Smith & Marcy appealed the judgment to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, describing the charges as “an ambush.” Aghmane’s supposedly criminal wrongdoing was actually no more than a family dispute involving a conflict between Ms. Aghmane and her teenaged cousin, who was a client at the bank where Ms. Aghmane worked. The cousin told Bank of America investigators that Ms. Aghmane withdrew funds from her account online without permission. But Ms. Aghmane explained to the bank’s investigators the cousin owed Ms. Aghmane $12,000 which Ms. Aghmane had loaned her for living expenses and the cousin had authorized Ms. Aghmane to withdraw those funds to repay the loan. The cousin further declined to seek prosecution or to identify Ms. Aghmane in writing. Ms. Aghmane provided documents showing that the cousin owed her money but the bank did nothing to either contact Ms. Aghmane herself or to contact the cousin after Ms. Aghmane explained her side of the story.
Winning on Appeal, and at Trial.
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit overturned the judgment for the Bank of America, finding that a reasonable jury could determine that Bank of America either knew or should have known that it had no more than a dispute and did not have “conclusive evidence” that Ms. Aghmane had committed a criminal act.
The case proceeded to trial in the Northern District in Oakland. In his summation, Ms. Aghmane’s attorney, Randall Aiman-Smith, called The Bank of America a “great big barrel-chested bully.” He pointed to the bank’s “grossly inadequate” fraud investigation that ruined Aghmane’s earning potential and blacklisted her from “the major leagues of banking,” destroying a successful and lucrative banking career.
The jury sided with Aghmane finding the bank liable for defamation, blacklisting, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The jury awarded Ms. Aghmane more than half a million dollars in damages and also determined that the Bank of America acted with malice and therefore was liable for punitive damages as well. The night before the jury was to begin deliberating on the amount of punitive damages, the case settled for a confidential amount.
Aiman-Smith & Marcy are employment law, consumer fraud, and class action attorneys who provide a multi-dimensional perspective to each case. We view each case as a partnership between ourselves and you, the client. Please contact us to learn more.