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By Porter Wells
A black Wells Fargo branch manager can go to trial on her claims of pay discrimination and retaliation, a federal judge in Texas ruled Feb. 7.
Wells Fargo recently announced it would make its pay data public in an effort to be more transparent about compensation disparities along gender and racial lines. The #MeToo movement has turned up the heat on the pay equity discussion, as some women now feel more “empowered” to demand equal pay.
Rochelle Sims, who worked for five years as a Wells Fargo branch manager in Houston, produced enough evidence that she was paid less than non-black male branch managers to create issues for trial, Judge Gray H. Miller said.
“We’re seeing more cases where federal judges are giving the benefit of the doubt to plaintiffs bringing discrimination claims and letting them get to a jury,” Sims’ counsel, Alfonso Kennard Jr. of Kennard Richard PC in Houston, told Bloomberg Law. “It’s an encouraging decision.”
Routine performance evaluations clued Sims into a pay equity issue. After learning a male subordinate was earning a higher salary, Sims collected salary information on male, non-black branch managers. She says when she complained to her boss and human resources about the disparities she found, she was demoted and moved to a new branch.
Sims filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in September 2016, claiming race and gender discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and a violation of the Equal Pay Act. Wells Fargo moved for dismissal of all of her claims.
Miller cited to Sims’ research several times in his opinion. Even where Wells Fargo provided nondiscriminatory reasons for the pay disparity and later demotion, Miller said the contrary information Sims had compiled and submitted created a genuine factual issue that would have to be resolved at trial.
Counsel for Wells Fargo didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment.
The case is Sims v. Wells Fargo, N.A., S.D. Tex., No. 4:16-cv-03212, summary judgment denied 2/7/18.
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