Wells Fargo routinely interviewed women and people of color to record diversity efforts in its hiring practices despite already offering the positions to other candidates, several employees have alleged.
The banking company has a long-standing informal policy that employers interview “diverse” candidates, defined by the company as women or people of color, for open positions. However, several employees said they began to realize candidates were often interviewed for positions that had already been offered to someone else.
“You feel very uncomfortable being on the other side of that table doing an interview, and you know that candidate has a zero chance of getting the job — zero,” Joe Bruno, a former Wells Fargo executive, told Action News. “These are real human beings on the other side of the table. They have families. I have a family. It’s just wrong.”
Bruno brought up his concerns to his superiors but was dismissed, he said. Then, in August 2021, the 58-year-old executive was fired, telling the New York Times it was an act of retaliation for telling the higher-ups the “fake interviews” were “inappropriate, morally wrong, ethically wrong.”
The former executive is one of seven current and former Wells Fargo employees who said the company instructed them to interview diverse candidates for positions that were filled. Five other employees were also aware of the policy or helped put it into practice, they told the outlet.
Rather than an attempt to increase diversity, the interviews seemed more an effort to record diversity efforts on paper, possibly as a safeguard in case of an audit into Wells Fargo’s hiring practices, the employees said.
Bank executives encouraged employees to follow its hiring guidelines and said they don’t condone the alleged conduct described by the employees.
“We researched all specific claims the reporter shared with us in advance of the story’s publication and could not corroborate the claims as factual,” Wells Fargo told the Washington Examiner in a statement. “At the same time, we take the nature of the allegations in the story seriously and, as a company, we do not tolerate the type of conduct alleged. We will continue our internal review and if we find evidence of inappropriate behavior or shortcomings in our guidelines or their implementation, we will take decisive action.”
Wells Fargo has previously faced allegations of discrimination in its hiring practices, paying $7.8 million in back wages and interest to resolve accusations of hiring discrimination. The payment was part of a settlement with the Department of Labor to resolve allegations the company had discriminated against 34,193 black applicants. The banking company also faced a lawsuit in 2013 from black financial advisers who sued over racial discrimination, prompting the bank to pay nearly $36 million and pledge to “take actions designed to enhance opportunities for employment, earnings, and advancement of African American financial advisors and financial advisor trainees.”
Before reaching the settlement in 2017, Wells Fargo executives began requiring employers to interview at least one woman or person of color for each open position, according to Burton. But that policy was never ratified and only applied to certain high-level positions, she said, particularly those that paid more than $100,000.
However, the fake interviews were for several types of positions, including those below the salary threshold, Bruno said. Other bank leaders denied those allegations.
Of the 30,000 people Wells Fargo hired in 2021, 81% were not white men, according to the outlet. It’s not clear how many of those employees received salaries above $100,000.