After Her Protégée Fell In Love With a Woman, This Executive Turned Into a Bad Boss
Diana Castle was more than a boss to Shelly Flood—she was her official mentor, tapped to help Ms. Flood advance at Bank of America.
That made what happened next all the worse.
Ms. Castle, a senior bank official, had been paired with Ms. Flood, a customer service employee, in a Bank of America mentoring program for women. The two clicked at first, discussing their shared experiences as working moms and Ms. Flood’s path to promotion. Ms. Flood applied for a job in Ms. Castle’s department, and Ms. Castle hired her.
Things fell apart, however, after Ms. Castle learned that Ms. Flood was romantically involved with a woman. According to documents in a lawsuit filed by Ms. Flood, Ms. Castle launched “a campaign of harassment and discrimination” that ended with the firing of Ms. Flood from the bank’s operation in Belfast, Maine—and the firing of Ms. Flood’s partner, too, from a separate company.
Diana Castle is our latest “Bad Boss of the Month.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that a reasonable jury could hold Bank of America liable for a hostile work environment caused by Ms. Castle’s “constant and disapproving scrutiny.” Rather than face trial, Bank of America opted in August 2015 to settle the case.
The trouble started after Shelly Flood—then called Shelly O’Donnell—started dating her wife-to-be, Keri Flood, who worked for a janitorial service that cleaned the bank. The two women had met in 2009 while on a smoke break; Shelly took Keri’s last name after a commitment ceremony in August 2010.
Stories differ on how Ms. Castle learned of the romance, but around April 2010 the executive’s “demeanor shifted,” according to Shelly Flood—becoming cold and targeting the junior woman’s relationship.
In a deposition, Ms. Castle agrees that she asked middle managers to monitor the couple’s behavior “to make sure that [Shelly Flood] didn’t have distractions.” Whenever Keri Flood approached her desk, says Shelly Flood, a manager “would stand up and watch me the whole time.”
Ms. Castle complained about Keri Flood’s “hanging out” both directly to Shelly Flood and to the bank’s liaison to the janitorial service. Besides distracting bank employees, she said, Keri Flood “didn’t seem to be doing a very good job cleaning.”
Ms. Castle’s comments resulted in a reprimand for Keri Flood but also a slap to Ms. Castle, whose superior intervened at Shelly Flood’s request and said he had no problem with Keri Flood visiting Shelly’s desk.
According to Shelly Flood, Ms. Castle’s actions kept escalating: The executive retroactively downgraded Ms. Flood’s performance, for instance, and forced a manager to issue her an erroneous warning. She told Ms. Flood not to participate in LGBT meetings during work hours—despite being part of the LGBT group herself. (Ms. Castle identifies as heterosexual and is married to a man, but says she has “numerous” gay friends.)
Shelly Flood took the hint: She ended the mentor relationship and began looking for another job at Bank of America—only to have Ms. Castle sabotage her effort by contacting at least one hiring manager to say Ms. Flood wasn’t ready for more responsibility.
Finally, Ms. Flood says, she couldn’t endure any more and stopped going to work. She sent a letter to Ms. Castle explaining that she believed she had been “retaliated against and judged on my personal life’s choices.”
Ms. Castle recommended that Bank of America follow its procedures for job abandonment, and Shelly Flood was terminated.
Shortly afterward, Ms. Castle reported an incident in which Keri Flood supposedly tried to push a pregnant bank employee down a stairwell. Keri Flood denies that the altercation ever happened—but Bank of America still banned her from its premises, and her employer fired her as a result.
Both Floods sued. Among other things, Keri Flood claimed that Bank of America defamed her and interfered with her employment; the defendants settled with her in 2013 after a trial became inevitable.
Shelly Flood’s discrimination claims remain open, but will be dismissed this month when a settlement is completed to avoid a trial in which, according to First Circuit judge Kermit Lipez, a reasonable jury could find “that Castle harbored animus toward Flood” and that the bank “actually fired Flood because of her sexual orientation.”
The Employment Law Group® law firm was not involved in Flood v. Bank of America Corp. We select "Bad Boss" cases to illustrate the continuing relevance of employee protection laws for our newsletter's audience, which includes attorneys and former TELG clients.