Riverview Bank parent settles lawsuit by former employee

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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A former employee of Vancouver-based Riverview Bancorp Inc. has accepted the company's offer to resolve a 2012 lawsuit she filed alleging that she was retaliated against and wrongfully fired for uncovering and reporting fraudulent activity at the bank.

Tracey McEuen, formerly an internal auditor for Riverview Bancorp — corporate parent of Riverview Community Bank — has accepted the bank's offer to have a judgment entered against it for $110,000. A U.S. District Court judge also has awarded her more than $500,000 in attorney fees and other costs.

When Riverview proposed to allow McEuen to take the $110,000 judgment against it, plus reasonable attorney fees and other costs to be decided later, the company said the offer wasn't an admission of wrongdoing.

"This is an offer of compromise," Ryan Hammond and Jennifer Pirozzi, Seattle attorneys for Riverview, wrote in an April 1 court document. "It is not an admission of the validity of any of (McEuen's) claims." The bank, they said, continues "to deny all claims (McEuen) has asserted in this lawsuit."

In a phone interview Tuesday, McEuen's Portland attorney, Anne Foster, said that whether Riverview admits it or not, the company "offered to have (a judgment) entered against them." She added, "This is a total victory. There's a judgment against them on every single claim we brought."

In McEuen's lawsuit, filed in November 2012 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, she said she was a protected whistle-blower but was fired for revealing deceptive practices at the bank, including violations of federal regulations and falsification of reports.

McEuen's suit — which named Riverview Bancorp and Riverview Community Bank as defendants — sought $1.4 million in damages, including for loss of income and health benefits, and emotional distress and loss of reputation.

In accepting Riverview's judgment offer, McEuen "wasn't looking for scorched earth," Foster said. "She wanted recompense for the loss she suffered. She wasn't looking to put a bank out of business or anything like that."

Phone calls and an email seeking comment from Kim Capeloto, executive vice president for Riverview, were not immediately returned Tuesday.

McEuen's suit described a complex set of events and conversations at the bank that occurred between February and October of 2011. The complaint said her protected whistle-blowing activities included raising compliance issues with the bank's management; collecting evidence of violations; refusing to engage in unlawful and/or fraudulent conduct; and raising compliance concerns with others at the bank who could have launched enforcement proceedings.

The bank fired McEuen because she uncovered and reported multiple cases of spurious activity, according to the lawsuit, including changes to internal audit reports; violations of bank policies and codes of conduct; and violations of the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which tightened financial and corporate governance rules.

The case involved "a number of contentious discovery motions," court documents show, and a denial of Riverview's motion for summary judgment. On April 4, shortly before the case was slated to go to trial, McEuen accepted the bank's $110,000 judgment offer, plus litigation costs.

On April 24, McEuen asked U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan to award her $591,209.55 in attorney fees and other litigation costs. Riverview challenged the amount, "raising nine objections to the attorney fee request and 12 objections to the request for litigation costs," court documents show.

In a May 27 decision, Bryan found "that nearly all" of the costs sought by McEuen "were reasonably incurred" and awarded her $509,732.20 in attorney fees and litigation costs, on top of the $110,000 judgment.

Foster, McEuen's attorney, said Tuesday it's her understanding that Riverview will not ask the court to reconsider the amount awarded in fees and costs.