By Steve Gelsi
Six current and former employees at Wells Fargo & Co.’s large wealth management unit said they were encouraged to interview women and African Americans for jobs that were already filled, in an effort to boost the bank’s diversity efforts, the New York Times reported Friday.
The newspaper’s print report, “Bank’s Effort On Diversity Just on Paper”, focuses on Joe Bruno, a long-time Wells Fargo /zigman2/quotes/203790192/composite WFC +0.45% employee who was fired by the bank last Summer.
Wells Fargo laid him off because he criticized his bosses for promoting “fake” interviews that were inappropriate, morally wrong and ethically wrong, Bruno told the newspaper .
Wells Fargo said Bruno was fired for allegedly retaliating against an employee, but further details were not provided in the article.
Wells Fargo spokesperson Raschelle Burton told the newspaper that supervisors are required to follow hiring policies and guidelines that are communicated throughout the firm.
“To the extent that individual employees are engaging in the behavior as described by the New York Times, we do not tolerate it,” Burton told the newspaper.
While the bank has made informal requests for supervisors to hire diverse candidates, the practice predates the current senior management of the company after Chief Executive Charlie Scharf took over the bank in 2019 and brought in many new leaders in 2020 as the bank reeled from $4.5 billion in fines stemming from a fraudulent account scandal, the spokesperson Burton said.
In the years following a 2013 class action discrimination lawsuit by Black financial advisers, Burton said Wells Fargo started requiring at least one woman or person of color to be interviewed for each open job, although the policy was only for positions offering salaries of more than $100,000.
The bank ended up paying $36 million in 2017 to settle the class action lawsuit by 320 Black financial advisers.
The Wells Fargo interview policy closely resembled the National Football League’s Rooney Rule, which was named after former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney and required nonwhite candidates to be interviewed for major jobs, such as head coach and general manager. The policy drew a lawsuit by Black coaches against the NFL earlier this year. The NFL has since introduced new hiring rules.
In response to Bruno’s allegations, Wells Fargo wealth and investment management CEO Barry Sommers told the newspaper that fake interviews wouldn’t have been required under the earlier policies because job candidates hired by Bruno would have been making less than $100,000.
“There is absolutely no reason why anyone would conduct a fake interview,” Sommers told the newspaper.
Wells Fargo spokeswoman Raschelle Burton said 77% of the bank’s 26,000 hires in 2020 were not white men. In 2021, about 81% of the 30,000 people hired were not white men.
Tony Thorpe, who retired from Wells Fargo in 2019, said he was mandated to document that he attempted to find a diverse pool of candidates, said that he had not conducted any fake interviews.
But Bruno and five other current and former employees said bogus interviews took place for a variety of positions. Three people working at Wells Fargo now said they had heard of fake interviews happening as recently as this year.
Don Banks, an African American wealth manager in Monroe, La., was contacted by Wells Fargo in 2016 and 2017 and was hired in 2018, only to be laid off in 2020 during the pandemic. A bank employee told the newspaper that Banks had been subjected to fake interviews before he was eventually hired.