Gay, HIV-positive Latino banker settles discrimination case


A judge's gavel

LOS ANGELES (City News Service) — An HIV-positive Latino man has settled his lawsuit against East West Bank and two branch management members, in which he alleged he was wrongfully fired from his teller job for complaining about discrimination due to his ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Plaintiff Sergio Dieguez’s attorneys filed court papers Jan. 8 with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jon Takasugi notifying him of the accord, but no terms were divulged. In January 2023, the parties agreed to arbitrate the dispute and the judge put a hold on discovery pending the outcome.

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

The 36-year-old El Monte man was hired 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 stated.

“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 alleged 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 in November 2022. Matters gotworse 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 stated.

“Ms. Chiu’s behavior and comments were inappropriate for the workplace and made (Dieguez) uncomfortable working with her,” the suit stated.

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 stated.

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

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 were just another “girl,” the suit stated.

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 stated.

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 alleged.

Dieguez was fired in August 2022 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 stated.

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

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