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Former broker settles case with First Union

A former First Union stockbroker will receive an undisclosed amount from the Charlotte, N.C., bank's brokerage arm to settle her claim that First Union wrongfully fired her for complaining about its mutual fund sales practices.

The settlement ends a two-year dispute between Laura Park of Palm Harbor and First Union Brokerage Services Inc.

Neither First Union nor Park's attorney, Jonathan Alpert of Tampa, would disclose terms of the settlement.

"It's over," Alpert said. "The parties have amicably settled their differences."

Alpert would not reveal the settlement amount and said only: "I think the previous orders speak for themselves."

An arbitration panel awarded Park $772,045 last September. In May, a U.S. District Court judge in Tampa ordered that the award be upheld after First Union asked the court to overturn it. Such awards can be overturned only on narrow grounds. The judge's order criticized some of First Union's arguments for overturning the award as "specious and insincere." Then last month, First Union said it would appeal the judge's decision because it was "contrary to the law and the facts of (the) case."

On Monday, First Union spokeswoman Marianna Sheridan said: "All issues between First Union Brokerage Services and Laura Park have been resolved amicably. I can provide you no further comment."

Park worked for First Union in Florida from the late 1980s until June 1994. She filed a claim in September 1994 with the National Association of Securities Dealers, a self-policing industry trade group, saying First Union fired her in retaliation for complaining that it trained employees to mislead customers about the risks of mutual fund investments. First Union disputes her claims.

The NASD panel's award is believed to be the first action of its kind against a large bank brokerage. Park had sought $1-million in compensatory damages and $100-million in punitive damages. She was awarded $272,045 in compensatory and $500,000 in punitive damages.

Federal securities regulators, the NASD and Florida securities officials are investigating complaints that First Union and NationsBank's brokerage arms have misled customers about the risks of investing in mutual funds. Some customers who bought funds in bank lobbies have sued the banks, claiming they were told their investments were as safe as federally insured certificates of deposit. The banks are fighting the lawsuits and say they have followed the law in selling investments.

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