August 5, 2014 in City

Former Sterling CEO Heidi Stanley, bank settle lawsuit

By The Spokesman-Review

An eleventh-hour deal resolved a multimillion-dollar discrimination lawsuit filed by a former Spokane bank executive against her former employer.

Heidi Stanley settled with both Sterling Bank and Wall Street investment firm Sandler O’Neill + Partners before jurors were to hear closing arguments in the civil lawsuit, her attorney said Monday.

Stanley alleged she was forced out of her job as the bank’s chief executive officer by two other executives hired to guide Sterling through the financial crisis of 2008. Stanley was being treated for breast cancer at the time.

The bank said it was ridding itself of ineffective “legacy management,” including founder Harold Gilkey, to obtain bailout money from wary investors, and the firing had nothing to do with Stanley’s gender or health.

Sterling Bank was acquired by Oregon-based Umpqua Holdings earlier this year.

Sixteen jurors heard three weeks of testimony in Spokane County Superior Court before a confidential deal was reached to settle the case Friday, said Bob Dunn, Stanley’s attorney.

Stanley had sought about $12 million in damages. Dunn discovered a paper trail that he alleged showed executives Greg Seibly and Ezra Eckhardt conspiring to remove Stanley, who they said was increasingly absent from the office while undergoing cancer treatment.

“What they did to Heidi Stanley was wrong,” Dunn said.

Sterling’s attorney, Greg Hollon, said the bank was pleased to resolve the case but continued to deny the allegations of discrimination.

“As a settlement of disputed claims, all parties continue to deny all claims and any and all wrongdoing,” Hollon wrote in an email.

James F. Williams, an attorney for Sandler O’Neill, declined comment. The Wall Street firm was acting as an adviser to Sterling.

Stanley began working for Sterling in 1985, eventually rising to the executive level and taking over the bank in January 2008. She was diagnosed with cancer in May 2009 and began receiving radiation treatments while still working for the bank, according to court documents. She repeatedly received inquiries about her health as the fall wore on and was fired during a board meeting four months after her diagnosis, according to court documents.

The settlement deal was contingent upon confidentiality, Dunn said.

“She’s very happy, and really pleased to finally have this put behind her,” Dunn said.

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