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Bank violates labor law over employment vs. campaign ultimatum


A bank violated New York labor law when it presented a New York State Assembly candidate with a choice between pursuing his campaign or keeping his job, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday, in overturning a lower court ruling.

William Truitt Gunnar, a part-time Dutchess County legislator who was working for Lakeville, Connecticut-based Salisbury Bancorp Inc. as a mortgage lending officer trainee, announced he was running as a Republican candidate in the upcoming election for the New York State Assembly in April 2018, according to Thursday’s ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York in William Gunnar Truitt v. Salisbury Bank and Trust Co. and Salisbury Bancorp, Inc.

The bank’s policy was that outside employment required the board of directors’ or executive management’s advance approval.

The bank advised Mr. Truitt he had to choose between running for office or continuing to work for the bank. Mr. Truitt decided to continue his campaign, and his bank employment ended.

Mr. Truitt, who lost the election, filed suit in U.S. District Court in White Plains, New York, alleging the bank had violated New York labor law in presenting its ultimatum.

The court granted the bank’s motion for summary judgment on the basis that his departure was “best classified as a resignation.”

A unanimous three-judge appeals court panel overturned the ruling. A “reasonable jury could find that the bank subjected Truitt to an adverse employment action when it forced an ultimatum upon him” because of his political activities, and that in requiring him to abandon his campaign as a condition of remaining employed it discriminated against him and violated New York law.

Mr. Truitt’s campaign was not interfering with his work, and bank managers were not aware of any complaints from his colleagues that he was unable to perform, it said.

The ruling also held the bank had not submitted admissible evidence that political activities did not play a “substantial” part in its decision to subject him to an adverse employment action, noting that New York law protects employees running for political office from discrimination.

The panel remanded the case for further proceedings.

Plaintiff attorney Ted McCullough, of McCullough Ginsberg Montano & Partners LLP in New York, said in a statement, “We are pleased with the result. Beyond that, the Decision is clear and we will continue to advance the case to trial.”

The bank’s attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.