Wells Fargo is under criminal investigation after bank managers were accused of conducting sham interviews with minority and female candidates for roles that were already filled in order to boost the bank’s diversity statistics.
The probe is being led by the new civil rights unit within the criminal division of the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office.
The new unit was started by Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
The investigation comes a month after a New York Times report in which former bank employees came forward, claiming they were instructed by higher ups to conduct interviews with black candidates despite the fact someone had already been picked for the jobs.
Former Wells Fargo wealth management executive Joe Bruno, 58, told the Times that he was fired last August after he blew the whistle to his bosses about the bank’s alleged ‘fake interviews,’ which he described as ‘inappropriate, morally wrong, ethically wrong’
Bruno claimed that he was instructed to conduct interviews with black candidates for the lower-paying financial adviser and financial consultant positions, despite the fact that he or his superiors had already picked someone for that job.
Bruno told the Times at a certain point he refused to conduct the interviews, telling his bosses: ‘I got a black person on the other side of the table who has no shot at getting the job,’ and says he was let go in retaliation for speaking up.
Former Wells Fargo wealth management executive Joe Bruno, 58, (left) claims he was fired after he blew the whistle to his bosses about the bank’s ‘fake interviews’. The investigation is being led by the new civil rights unit within the office started by Damian Williams (right), the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York
Manhattan federal prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into Wells Fargo to determine if the bank’s hiring practices broke the law
The New York Times reports that there are no apparent charges under consideration at this point, but the investigation signals a federal willingness to use criminal law to address issues that may have been handled as civil matters in the past.
Bruno is just one of seven current and former Wells Fargo employees that claim their bosses in the wealth management unit instructed them to interview so-called ‘diverse’ candidates for positions that had already been filled by another candidate.
Five other people also came forward and said they were aware of the practice, or took part in arranging the interviews, the Times reported last month.
According to the employees, some of which remained anonymous out of fear of losing their jobs, the interviews were a ploy to boost the bank’s diversity efforts in anticipation of possible regulatory audits instead of actually diversifying the bank’s workforce.
The claims come two years after CEO Charles W. Scharf pledged to increase diversity following the murder of George Floyd in June 2020.
The bank adopted a formal policy that required diverse candidate be interviewed for any open positions that raked in over $100,000 a year.
On Monday, the bank’s CEO Charles W. Scharf announced that Wells Fargo would be putting a pause to diversity hiring policy in order to implement changes.
Wells Fargo spokeswoman Raschelle Burton also denied the fake interview claims, telling the Times in an emailed statement: ‘To the extent that individual employees are engaging in the behavior as described by The New York Times, we do not tolerate it’
Burton says that in 2020 the bank hired nearly 26,000 people and 77 percent of them were not white men, and that 81 percent of the 30,000 new hires in 2021 were not white men.
On Monday, the bank’s CEO Charles W. Scharf (pictured) announced that Wells Fargo would be putting a pause to diversity hiring policy in order to implement changes
She did not specify what percentage of those new hires were for jobs that paid more than $100,000.
The bank has been in legal hot water regarding diversity before.
In August 2020 the bank paid an $8 million settlement to the Department of Labor for allegedly discriminating against more than 30,000 black applicants for banking, sales and support roles at the bank.
Prior to that the bank was forced to settle a racial discrimination class action suit in 2017, paying $36 million to 320 black financial advisors who claimed they were not given the opportunity to win new clients or partner with white financial advisers.
Following the settlement the bank promised to ‘take actions designed to enhance opportunities for employment, earnings, and advancement of African American financial advisors and financial advisor trainees,’ as well as adopt an unofficial policy to interview at least one woman or person of color for every open job, Burton said.
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