For some employees, banking law trumps state protections

Banks chartered under the National Bank Act (NBA) don’t have to worry that some of their employment decisions will violate state wrongful-discharge laws. That’s because the NBA says all bank officers serve at the pleasure of a bank board of directors, which can terminate officers as they see fit.

As the following case shows, the definition of “officer” is broad and can include many bank branch managers with titles such as vice president.

Recent case: Eugene Schweikert worked for Bank of America as a financial advisor and held the title of senior vice president. When he received a phone call from someone purporting to be from the FBI inquiring about a customer, Schweikert refused to turn over the requested information. The board then fired him for exercising “poor judgment.”

Schweikert sued, alleging wrongful discharge under North Carolina law.

But the bank prevailed and the lawsuit was dismissed. The court said the NBA provisions overrode state law and clearly included member banks’ rights to fire managers, such as Schweikert, who were designated by the banks’ boards as officers.

Schweikert was a manager with a senior vice president title who had discretion and earned a large salary. He had been hired by the board as an officer and was clearly more than a low-level employee who would be covered by state employment laws. (Schweikert v. Bank of America, No. 06-2137, 4th Cir., 2008)