EEOC Sues Wells Fargo for Same-Sex Sexual Harassment

by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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Female Manager Sexualized Workplace, Employee Forced to Quit to Escape, Federal Agency Charges

RENO, Nev. -Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. violated federal law when it allowed a manager and employee to create a sexually hostile work environment for a class of female employees, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.

According to the EEOC, four female bank tellers employed at a Reno, Nev., Wells Fargo branch regularly faced graphic sexual comments, gestures and images from a female service manager and another female bank teller.  The harassment included invasive comments about their bodies and sex lives as well as inappropriate touching and grabbing.  The EEOC also charges that the service manager suggested that the female bank tellers wear sexually provocative clothing in order to attract or retain customers and to advance in the workplace. The civil rights agency found that, although the offensive conduct was reported to management several times, Wells Fargo failed to take effective action and one employee felt compelled to quit rather than endure the ongoing harassment.

"I began to hate my job," said one of the tellers.  "The clothing they would wear … the never-ending comments, gestures, images … you could not escape it.  Going to work was demeaning and humiliating."

Sexual harassment violates Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada (EEOC v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Case No. 3:13-CV-00528), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.  The EEOC's suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the harassed employees, back pay for the employee who was forced to quit, and injunctive relief intended to prevent sexual harassment from recurring at Wells Fargo.  

"Sexual harassment is illegal, regardless of whether the harasser is female or male, the same or opposite gender as the victim," said EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo.  "Federal law requires employers to protect their workers from harassment and sexual abuse, especially at the hands of a manager."

EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado added, "The facts brought to light by our investigation are disturbing.  When employees report a manager's or co-worker's inappropriate behavior, employers must immediately investigate the claims and take steps to rectify the situation." 

According to company information, with main offices in Sioux Falls, S.D., Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., is the primary U.S. operating subsidiary of Wells Fargo & Company, headquartered in San Francisco, and employs 264,900 employees nationwide. 

Preventing harassment through systemic enforcement and targeted outreach is one of six national priorities identified by the agency's Strategic Enforcement Plan.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) | Attorney Advertising

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