Federal Prosecutors Open Criminal Inquiry of Wells Fargo’s Hiring Practices

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Federal Prosecutors Open Criminal Inquiry of Wells Fargo’s Hiring Practices

Authorities are investigating whether the bank violated federal anti-discrimination laws by conducting sham interviews of minority candidates.

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The head of human resources for Wells Fargo said in a recent interview that she did not believe the fake interview practice was “a systematic issue.”
The head of human resources for Wells Fargo said in a recent interview that she did not believe the fake interview practice was “a systematic issue.”Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times
The head of human resources for Wells Fargo said in a recent interview that she did not believe the fake interview practice was “a systematic issue.”
Emily Flitter

By Emily Flitter

June 9, 2022

Federal prosecutors in New York have opened a criminal investigation into whether Wells Fargo violated federal laws by conducting sham interviews of minority and female job candidates, according to two people with knowledge of the inquiry.

The investigation is being conducted by members of a newly created civil rights unit inside the criminal division of the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, the people said. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The investigation, which is in its early stages, was spurred by a May 19 report in The New York Times that centered on a whistle-blower, Joe Bruno. Mr. Bruno, a former Wells Fargo employee, and others said bank managers were interviewing job applicants whom the bank deemed “diverse” — a catchall term for racial minorities, women and members of other disadvantaged groups — for roles that had already been promised to other people.

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These sham interviews were the result of the bank’s quest to increase diversity — a noble goal that became twisted in practice because, some employees said, it was more about recording the bank’s efforts to hire more minorities than actually hiring them.

The practice was tied to Wells Fargo’s “diverse slate” policy, which stipulated that at least half the candidates interviewed for jobs paying $100,000 or more needed to be “diverse.” The rule was put in place in mid-2020. However, the practice of conducting fake interviews existed long before then, because Wells Fargo had a similar unwritten policy.

A Wells Fargo spokeswoman declined to comment on the investigation.

It is not clear what, if any, charges could result from the investigation. But it shows a new willingness by federal authorities to pursue criminal prosecutions of civil rights violations at a time when hate crimes are on the rise — especially because the criminal code is seldom applied to the treatment of workers or customers by corporations.

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The civil rights unit handling the Wells Fargo inquiry was created in November by Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Under federal law, for instance, it is a crime to interfere with “an applicant for private employment” in a way motivated by the applicant’s “race, color, religion or national origin.”

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Federal authorities typically cite civil anti-discrimination laws when bringin

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