“Animal House”: Bank OZK execs accused of sexual misconduct, age discrimination

“Animal House”: Bank OZK execs accused of sexual misconduct, age discrimination

A female former executive at Bank OZK claims she was fired days after flagging sexual misconduct in its lending unit (Credit: iStock, Pixabay)

A female former executive at Bank OZK claims she was fired days after flagging sexual misconduct in its lending unit (Credit: iStock, Pixabay)

A former executive at Bank OZK’s real-estate lending division alleges that current and former executives within her group engaged in sexual misconduct and age discrimination.

In a lawsuit, Anna Carrillo, a former senior vice president within the Dallas-based Real Estate Specialties Group, claims that in October 2017, she was fired days after complaining that a junior paralegal in the department was underperforming. That paralegal, Carrillo alleges, was engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with another executive in the group, Wes Hardin. The suit details an “animal house” culture that enabled heavy drinking and inappropriate fraternizing within the bank’s commercial lending division, which has loaned billions of dollars to New York, Miami and Los Angeles developers over the past few years.

“It is a bank where male executives ran amok pressuring younger females to have sex with their supervisors in total disregard for the #metoo movement,” Carrillo’s suit claims.

The legal action, initially filed against Bank OZK in November 2018 in Dallas County Court, is now in the Northern District of Texas Supreme Court. When reached for comment, a Bank OZK spokesperson pointed to a court filing that denied all allegations in the lawsuit. In the filing, the bank states that Carrillo’s termination was “based on legitimate, non-discriminatory, and non-retaliatory business reasons.”

In one incident detailed in Carrillo’s suit, Hardin, then a managing director in the real-estate lending group, invited the paralegal to an event for bank executives, where they were allegedly seen to be behaving as a couple. The pair also allegedly spent “hours” in Hardin’s office with the door closed on multiple occasions during work hours, despite Hardin having no oversight of her duties. These events were the subject of a separate complaint filed to the bank’s human resources department by another employee, which has been viewed by The Real Deal.

The lawsuit also claims that Hardin, another executive, Brannon Hamblen, who is the current president of the group, and two other men in the unit engaged in inappropriate conduct with a female receptionist earlier in 2017. One episode allegedly involved an inappropriate image sent by Hamblen to the receptionist.

Carrillo, who is 54 and oversaw the closing of more than 250 transactions at the bank, said the company framed her termination as a “re-structuring,” but that many of her duties were later assigned to the paralegal, who is in her 20s. Shortly after, an internal investigation into conduct by Hardin and the paralegal, who TRD has chosen not to name, led to their termination.

“It took me over 30 years to get to that position,” Carrillo said in an interview. “And it was all taken away from me.”

According to an affidavit filed by Dan Thomas, who was then head of the division, he confronted the four men in a meeting about a rumor of inappropriate conduct with the receptionist, but all denied wrongdoing.

Hardin, Hamblen and the other two men are not named as defendants in the lawsuit. They did not respond to requests for comment. Court filings from June indicate the parties are working toward a settlement.

The lawsuit against Bank OZK comes at a time when the real-estate industry is facing a wider reckoning spurred by the #MeToo movement. Major companies in the space have been hit with claims of sexual harrassment and age and gender discrimination, including WeWork, Cushman & Wakefield and Newmark Knight Frank.

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