TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and the Division on Civil Rights announced today that Wells Fargo Bank has agreed to strengthen its anti-discrimination policies as part of a settlement that resolves allegations a bank employee pressured a female loan applicant for sex, and that the bank took insufficient action upon learning of the alleged conduct.
In addition to updating its anti-discrimination and harassment policies, Wells Fargo has agreed to provide instruction to its human resources personnel on how to properly investigate employee-conduct-related customer complaints, and will pay the Division on Civil Rights $2,500. Under a separate agreement to which the Division is not a party, loan applicant Jeanine Johnson, of Newark, has resolved her complaint with Wells Fargo.
“This settlement resolves very troubling allegations,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “People who seek a bank loan have every right to anticipate that their privacy and their dignity will be respected, and that they will not be pressured to engage in any sort of unlawful and offensive quid pro quo bargain in order to obtain the loan they’ve requested.”
“The policy reform and staff training components of this settlement are particularly important,” said Division on Civil Rights Director Craig T. Sashihara. “Not only is it vital that Wells Fargo’s banking employees be reminded of what constitutes harassing behavior; it also is vital that the company’s human resources personnel be aware of how to conduct an effective, thorough investigation when a customer has complained about an employee’s words or actions.”
Johnson told Division on Civil Rights investigators that she was employed at a rest stop along the New Jersey Turnpike in January 2011 when she met a Wells Fargo personal banker who said he could help with a loan she hoped to obtain.
Johnson said she subsequently contacted the man and he suggested discussing her loan needs over dinner and a movie. Johnson declined that invitation but subsequently met the man at a diner for coffee. At that meeting she gave him her pay stubs and tax records, and filled out a Wells Fargo loan application, she said.
According to Johnson, the banker then began turning up at her workplace, pressuring her for dates and sending her text messages such as “I need sum affection” and asking when he would “get a treat” for his efforts on her behalf. Eventually, after she had rebuffed his overtures on numerous occasions, the banker became verbally abusive and advised Johnson he would not process her loan, she told investigators. He also allegedly sent Johnson a text message that read, “f--- u and ur loan.”
Johnson complained to the Wells Fargo branch in Madison, Morris County, where the banker worked, and where she’d once visited him to inquire about the progress of her loan application. According to Wells Fargo records, two managers subsequently interviewed the employee. He did not deny Johnson’s allegations, but said he’d been involved in a personal relationship with Johnson that predated her interest in a loan. The two supervisors cautioned the employee about the need to separate his personal and professional lives when dealing with banking matters, but otherwise took no action. They closed their internal review after speaking only with the alleged harasser, and never contacted Johnson for her version of events.
In February 2011, Wells Fargo terminated the employee, ostensibly over issues unrelated to Johnson’ harassment allegations.
The bank, which under terms of its settlement with the State admits no wrongdoing, never notified Johnson about the status of her loan application.
Deputy Attorney General Farng-Yi Foo, assigned to the Division of Law, Investigators Agnes Roncaglio and Ana Limo-Magras, and Regional Manager Carolyn Paul handled the Wells Fargo settlement on behalf of the Division on Civil Rights.