Wells Fargo Hindering Sexual Harassment Investigation, EEOC Says

From labor disputes cases to labor and employment publications, for your research, you’ll find solutions on Bloomberg Law®. Protect your clients by developing strategies based on Litigation...

By Patrick Dorrian

Wells Fargo is unlawfully hindering the U.S. government’s investigation of suspected widespread sexual harassment of female employees, the EEOC said in a federal court filing ( EEOC v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. , D. Md., No. 1:17-cv-02583, subpoena enforcement action filed 9/6/17 ).

The case involves the hotly debated question of whether and when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may continue a probe into alleged workplace bias after the original charging party has resolved or withdrawn her allegations or lost her claims. For example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held in August that the agency could continue to investigate possible race bias in hiring by Union Pacific Railroad Co. despite the employees who first brought the alleged discrimination to the EEOC’s attention having lost their separate private claims against the railroad.

That ruling added to a divide among the federal appeals courts as to whether the commission is permitted to extend a workplace bias investigation beyond the date it issues a right-to-sue letter to the original charging party.

In its Sept. 6 filing against Wells Fargo, the agency says the bank has refused to turn over personnel files and other documents regarding a potential hostile work environment for women created by a male supervisor’s repeatedly staring at female employees’ chests and otherwise harassing them. The agency said it requested the information after an initial investigation into a female worker’s charge of discrimination revealed that the same supervisor had similarly harassed other women and that the bank knew of the recurring misconduct.

The EEOC asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland to enforce a subpoena requesting the documents from Wells Fargo Bank N.A. The woman who originally filed the charge, Alice Frey, and the bank apparently settled the allegations shortly after the EEOC served its initial request for the information, the agency said.

Wells Fargo has since refused to cooperate in the agency’s effort to look beyond Frey’s individual charge and into the potential harassment of a class of women, the EEOC said.

Expanding Investigation

The agency’s investigator spoke to a witness subsequent to Frey’s apparent settlement with the bank. The witness confirmed that supervisor Robert Pellicot sexually harassed Frey and generally made women uncomfortable by staring at their chests while speaking with them, the EEOC said. And it was Frey who initially sparked the EEOC’s interest in expanding the investigation by providing details of other female Wells Fargo employees who were harassed or discriminated against based on sex, the agency said.

Frey has never withdrawn her charge, despite her purported settlement with Wells Fargo, and her “alleged” attorney hasn’t entered an appearance in the EEOC’s investigation, according to the agency.

The EEOC’s subpoena demands that the bank produce all harassment complaints against Pellicot, the identity of other employees who were supervised by Pellicot or who worked with Frey, and the contact information for all those employees. It also seeks Pellitcot’s and Frey’s personnel files and information as to whether Pellicot still works for Wells Fargo, and the reason he left the bank if he no longer works there.

The EEOC Sept. 7 declined to comment on the petition when contacted by Bloomberg BNA.

Representatives for Wells Fargo didn’t comment on the case when contacted by Bloomberg BNA.

Attorneys in the EEOC’s Baltimore office represent the commission. No attorney had filed an appearance yet for Wells Fargo.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Labor & Employment on Bloomberg Law