Gay, HIV-Positive Latino Banker Ordered to Arbitrate Discrimination Case

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A judge has ordered binding arbitration of an HIV- positive Latino man's lawsuit claims against East West Bank and two branch management members, in which he alleges he was wrongfully fired from his teller job for complaining about discrimination due to his ethnicity and sexual orientation.

In an action Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jon Takasugi also stayed the case brought by plaintiff Sergio Dieguez pending the decision by the arbitrator. The parties had agreed in joint papers filed with the judge to submit the case to arbitration.

The judge scheduled a post-arbitration status conference for Jan. 23, 2024.

Dieguez's allegations also include harassment, retaliation, violation of the right privacy, failure to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The 34-year-old El Monte man was hired by East West Bank as a teller in October 2018 at the Montebello branch and was the only Latino in a work environment in which the other employees were mostly Asian, including branch manager Horace Lam and assistant manager Veronica Chiu, the suit states.

"Plaintiff was often picked on, excluded from company events that others were invited to and generally made to feel inferior compared to his co- workers," according to the suit, which further alleges he did not receive the guidance, training and assistance that Asian bank tellers were given.

Shortly after Dieguez was hired, Chiu began asking him intimate questions about his personal life, whether he had a girlfriend and about his sexual practices, according to the suit, filed Nov. 23. Matters got worse for Dieguez when he ultimately disclosed months later to Chiu that he was gay because she asked him even more personal questions and even discussed her own intimate experiences, the suit states.

"Ms. Chiu's behavior and comments were inappropriate for the workplace and made (Dieguez) uncomfortable working with her," the suit states.

A few weeks after he disclosed his sexuality to Ms. Chiu, Lam told Dieguez that he knew about the plaintiff's sexual preferences and that he had no problem with him being gay, the suit states.

"Plaintiff was shocked at this comment given he had no prior conversations with Mr. Lam about his sexuality," the suit states.

During the next few years, Lam and Chiu allegedly made several disparaging and inappropriate comments in reference to Dieguez's  sexuality, with Chiu seeming to feel she could openly discuss her sexual topics with the plaintiff as if he was just another "girl," the suit states.

In mid-2020, Dieguez started missing a few days of work each month due to symptoms associated with his HIV-positive status, which he disclosed to Chiu when she questioned him about why he was calling in sick, the suit states. Dieguez complained to human resources beginning in October 2021 about the way Chiu and Lam were treating him, but a promise to investigate his concerns never went forward, the suit alleges.

Dieguez was fired last August after an interaction with a rude customer who yelled and cursed at him when the plaintiff said he needed management approval to cash a check for the patron, the suit states.

Dieguez, who had suffered a panic attack because of the unruly customer and had asked if he could to home, was instead told by Lam to turn in his keys and that he was being terminated, the suit states. He was not given an explanation for his firing, but believes he lost his job because he complained about discrimination and harassment, the suit states.

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