Karen Hail suing MidSouth

by Heather Miller

The former MidSouth exec claims the bank engaged in sex discrimination and violated the Family Medical Leave Act.

Former MidSouth Bank exec Karen Hail is suing MidSouth for what she claims is gender discrimination after being passed over for the bank's president position without ever being granted an interview.

Hail, 57, was a 25-year employee of MidSouth, having held the positions of executive vice president, senior executive vice president, chief operating officer and secretary of the bank's board of directors.

Hail had applied for medical leave in October 2009, but according to the lawsuit was placed on administrative leave before her medical leave paperwork was even complete.

"She was also blocked from her email accounts and told that she was required to leave the business premises," the lawsuit states. "Plaintiff requested to speak with Rusty Cloutier, who was CEO of MidSouth Bank, regarding the adverse treatment she was experiencing, but Mr. Cloutier denied her request and failed to provide relief, instead engaging in a pattern of retaliation."

According to the lawsuit, Hail's relationship with the bank worsened after her return from medical leave, peaking in June 2010 when William Charbonnet, chairman of MidSouth Bancorp's board of directors, told Hail she would not be nominated to serve on the board of directors, a position she had held for 25 years.

"When plaintiff inquired as to the reasons underlying the decision ... she was told by Mr. Charbonnet that her leave had been disruptive and that he had prayed about the meeting notifying her that she would not be renominated in hopes that she would not become emotional because she was a woman," the lawsuit states.

From 2002 to 2004, Hail served as acting president of MidSouth while Cloutier was serving as president of the Independent Community Bankers of America, according to the lawsuit.

Performance reviews were outstanding, according to the lawsuit, including statements like "No worries when Rusty is away. They know Karen is there and the store is in safe hands."

Yet when Hail applied for the president position in September 2010, she was never interviewed, the lawsuit says. When she asked why only male candidates were interviewed for the spot, she received a letter saying she would be terminated effective March 2011.

Hail has hired Allison Jones of Shreveport as her attorney and is seeking unspecified compensation, punitive damages and legal fees.

Cloutier was unavailable for comment this morning.

MidSouth Chief Operating Officer Jerry Reaux is named in the lawsuit as the person hired to the bank president position under a new position title. The lawsuit states that Reaux has significantly less experience than Hail but is receiving a much higher salary.

[Full Disclosure: Jerry Reaux is chairman of the board of The Independent Weekly LLC.]