VOL. 132 | NO. 113 | Wednesday, June 7, 2017
First Tennessee Bank Complaint vs. Pinnacle Financial to Go to Trial
By Andy Meek
A legal fight brought in the wake of Pinnacle Financial Partners’ arrival into the Memphis market appears set for a jury trial.
Shelby County Chancellor Jim Kyle on Tuesday, June 6, denied a motion for partial summary judgment made by Memphis-based First Tennessee Bank, which filed its complaint against Pinnacle in February 2016. First Tennessee originally brought the action in 2015 only against Damon Bell, a First Tennessee executive vice president recruited to be Pinnacle’s Memphis president.
Pinnacle announced Bell’s recruitment, along with seven other First Tennessee employees, in April 2015 on the same day it announced a definitive agreement to acquire Memphis-based Magna Bank.
That recruitment, according to the amended complaint filed in early 2016, was the culmination of secretive efforts that included involvement from Pinnacle to recruit Bell and the other defectors while they were still employed at First Tennessee.
That issue is what now appears headed for a jury.
“We are pleased that First Tennessee’s motion was denied and that a jury will now be able to hear our associates’ experiences at their former workplace and the reasons they chose to leave,” reads a statement from Pinnacle president and CEO Terry Turner about the judge’s decision. “We do not believe employees should be discouraged from making positive moves in their careers, as this case seems designed to do.”
For its part, First Tennessee issued a statement noting it looks forward “to presenting the facts and the law to a jury of our fellow citizens.”
Bell had served as an executive vice president in First Tennessee’s private wealth group, where his responsibilities included working with employees serving the bank’s private banking clients in West Tennessee.
Pinnacle announced its acquisition of Magna, and that it had hired eight First Tennessee employees, the same week as First Tennessee’s annual shareholders meeting in 2015.
“The seven resignations orchestrated by Bell and Pinnacle, along with Bell’s own abrupt resignation, have in fact caused harm to First Tennessee,” the complaint read. “All of these employees were responsible for substantial and important customer relationships, and the defections were unexpected and immediate in nature, so First Tennessee has been forced to undertake expensive and time-consuming efforts to transition responsibility to its remaining team members in order to continue to serve its clients’ needs.”
Pinnacle went on to hire professionals locally from other institutions like SunTrust after that first wave of First Tennessee hires – as well as additional employees from First Tennessee who were added later.