Former credit union chief heads to court, seeks back wages and damages.

Banking on Justice: Former Monterey Columbian Federal Credit Union chief Donna Bindel says health issues led to her ouster. The credit union merged in 2008 and now is known as the Monterey County Employees Credit Union.

The former CEO of Monterey Columbian Federal Credit Union, now the Monterey County Employees Credit Union, is suing her former employer, alleging age, disability and gender discrimination led to her firing.

Donna Bindel is suing for at least $600,000 in lost wages and damages for “humiliation, mental anguish and emotional and physical distress.” She filed suit on Dec. 23 in Monterey County Superior Court.

Bindel first joined the credit union as a clerk in 1981, was promoted to assistant manager in 1988 and became CEO in 1991. 

Her career descended after Monterey-based MCFCU merged with Salinas-based MCECU in 2008, when Bindel was optimistic that the credit union would be made more accessible for members in each city. But she claims that although MCECU CEO Patrick Redo maintained there would be no major changes, “It went upside down.” 

Redo, who also is named a defendant along with the credit union, says he has no comment on the case. 

Bindel’s attorney, William Crawford of Crawford & Crawford in Carmel Valley, says unfair treatment toward Bindel began after she raised concerns that credit union rules were being violated. With credit union policy, “There are a lot of i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed,” he says. Among Bindel’s complaints: Ineffective notification to members that a $4 annual fee would apply to inactive accounts. 

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The credit union has approximately 4,500 members. 

Bindel, who suffers from a degenerative back problem, left for three months of back surgery and recovery shortly after the merger. When she returned to work, she says her office was entirely emptied out, and her duties were downgraded to “teller-like” tasks that required up-and-down movements stressful to her back. 

Bindel says she was stripped of her authority to approve loans, leaving her Monterey branch as a secondary, processing-type center while management decisions were made in Salinas, creating inequitable sharing of responsibility. She contends that violated the terms of the merger. 

Bindel laments the deterioration of a member-oriented, nonprofit organization. “The personal aspect is gone. [Redo] is running it like a bank,” she says, citing a new call center and automated system that has replaced personalized attention. After Bindel was terminated in 2009, she says members tried to reach her at her husband’s office, looking to continue the “family-like relationship” the credit union had cultivated with members. 

The parties are due to appear in court in April.

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