NEWPORT BEACH, Calif., Feb. 15 – LAWFUEL – The …

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif., Feb. 15 – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network — On December 30, 2005, after battling for a year and a half, Bobbi Koehler, a former female executive of Imperial Capital Bank, a wholly-owned subsidiary of ITLA Capital Corporation (ITLA), the largest financial institution headquartered in San Diego County, won vindication and an award of over $900,000 on a claim of unlawful gender
discrimination based on ITLA’s failure to consider her for promotion above the
level of First Vice President. The award, which makes final the interim award
that issued on November 17, 2005, includes damages of more than $500,000 and
attorneys fees and costs of more than $430,000. Issued by an arbitrator from
the Orange County office of JAMS Endispute, the Hon. Richard Neal (Ret.), a
retired Justice of the California Court of Appeal, the award rejected ITLA’s
claim that Ms. Koehler’s nonpromotion was due to business reasons and not
gender discrimination. The award is not subject to appeal. R. Craig Scott,
CEO of the Newport Beach-based Executive Law Group, represented Ms. Koehler.
Richard A. Paul and Kari D. Searles of the San Diego-based law firm of Paul,
Plevin, Sullivan & Connaughton LLP represented Imperial Capital Bank and ITLA.

“We are grateful that Justice Neal accepted the underlying theory of Ms.
Koehler’s case, which was that ITLA, through the actions of its Chief
Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board, George Haligowski, Vice Chairman
and Chief Credit Officer, Norval Bruce and other senior executives,
established and maintained what his Honor conservatively described in the
award as a “corporate bias against promoting women” and held Imperial Capital
Bank and ITLA accountable,” said attorney Scott. “During her tenure with
Imperial Capital Bank, Ms. Koehler was repeatedly passed over for promotion,
despite her vocal opposition to its conspicuous ‘glass ceiling,’ while other
male First Vice Presidents (and no females) with lower performance ratings and
less management experience were given promotions and less qualified male job
candidates were hired to fill more senior open positions for which ITLA gave
Ms. Koehler no consideration. As Ms. Koehler found out, ITLA utilizes a
‘tap-on-the-shoulder’ promotion system, where networking among the male
executives in a ‘boys club’ atmosphere is more important than an employee’s
performance or relevant job experience. The result: as his Honor observed in
the award, although women make up more than half of the workforce of Imperial
Capital Bank, their numbers shrink considerably at the higher levels of
management without regard to seniority or performance. “One can only wonder
how many current and former female associates of the bank had experiences
similar to mine, and will now feel that they, too, should come forward,”
observed Ms. Koehler.

During a 5 1/2 day arbitration hearing before Justice Neal, evidence was
introduced that ITLA’s “corporate bias against promoting women” is rooted in
an even more disturbing form of gender discrimination, which manifested itself
in the official tolerance of sexual harassment and alcohol abuse by members of
its male-dominated senior management team at business events. As an example,
in the award Justice Neal described in detail an instance in which an
intoxicated male senior executive perpetrated “outrageous harassment” against
a female subordinate during a company event. He was not only accorded what
his Honor described as “highly lenient treatment” by CEO George Haligowski,
but he was promoted by Mr. Haligowksi to an even more senior management
position shortly after the female victim complained to the Bank’s Human
Resources department. “One would have thought that this sort of misconduct by
senior executives in the banking industry went out with the Savings & Loan
scandals of the 1980s,” said attorney Scott.

In the award, his Honor also noted a pattern of sexually degrading remarks
made by other senior ITLA executives, which disparaged the fitness of women
per se to hold senior management positions at the Bank. This discriminatory
bias is even reflected in the composition of ITLA’s board of directors, which
has never had a female member.

Almost as disturbing, CEO Haligowski admitted under cross-examination
that, although he touts his Harvard education and his curriculum vitae
suggests that he holds academic degrees from other prestigious universities,
he actually has no undergraduate degree, nor any post-secondary school
academic degrees. “I was led to believe that he graduated from an Ivy League
school, earned an M.B.A. from Harvard and had completed post-graduate work at
other top schools,” Ms. Koehler said. “I was shocked to learn that this was
not true. What would the shareholders think if they knew? ITLA is a public
company and an FDIC-insured financial institution. I can’t imagine that
something like this doesn’t violate the company’s Code of Business Conduct and

“This award reaffirms that the California and federal laws prohibiting
employment discrimination remain vital to ensuring that women have access to
workplaces in the banking industry that are free of unlawful gender
discrimination,” Scott said.

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