Wells Fargo Accused of Discriminatory Employment Practices

(AP Photo/CX Matiash, File)

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A black former bank teller at Wells Fargo claims in a federal class action that his short-lived promotion to manager was marked by discrimination and unequal pay.

Filing suit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, lead plaintiff Frank Hightower says he had been working at a Wells Fargo in Chichester, Pa., for nearly four years when he was promoted in April 2014 as part of the bank’s “plan to increase diversity among its store managers.”

Indeed, Wells Fargo “maintains a diversity scorecard which it uses to control hiring demographics via a quota system,” the complaint states.

Hightower says his eventual termination last year is the direct result of a complaint he made in July 2014 about another manager’s discriminatory treatment of black employees with regard to monetary raises. 

“The retaliatory actions were in the form of continued harassment, static salary, six (6) disciplinary write-ups, despite excellent performance, and other unsubstantiated attempts at discipline and corrective action,” the complaint states.

Hightower says one area manager even apologized for the discriminatory and retaliatory treatment he faced in 2015, and that he “received numerous awards for performance that year.”

“Additionally, despite his performance, he was still the lowest paid store manager in his region,” the complaint states.

Hightower claims to have applied for numerous transfers and promotions in the Philadelphia area “but was rejected each and every time.”

“Suspecting that he was indeed being ‘flagged’ within his region, plaintiff applied for manager opportunities outside of the region,” the complaint states.

Though Hightower allegedly was approved in April 2016 for a lateral transfer to a Wells Fargo branch in Atlanta, Ga., he says the trouble from Philadelphia followed him to his new branch.

The first corrective action that the bank issued to Hightower in Georgia was a “final warning,” according to the complaint.

Hightower says the bank attributed his termination on his failure to complete training as stipulated in the corrective action, but that the bank made compliance impossible: requiring him to complete the trainings by Aug. 31, 2016, though they were not available until 2017.

The class seeks punitive damages and an injunction, alleging violations of federal civil rights laws, Title VII, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

They are represented by attorney Zakia Moore of McCain Law.

U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh is presiding.

Also in Philadelphia, Wells Fargo is battling claims of lending discrimination from the city. Philadelphia claims that loans in majority-non-white neighborhoods are 4.7 times as likely to be foreclosed on as loans in predominantly white neighborhoods. The cities of Los Angeles, Oakland, Miami, Baltimore and Memphis filed similar suits against the bank at the time. 

Wells Fargo spokesman Jim Baum balked at the charge.

“While we are still reviewing the lawsuit, Wells Fargo denies that we have a company-wide pattern and practice of discrimination,” Baum said in an email. “Wells Fargo is committed to advancing diversity and social inclusion by helping ensure that all people across our workforce feel valued and respected, and have equal access to opportunities to succeed.”

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