Executive sues Wells Fargo for inaction on sexual misconduct

Content warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual assault.

A former Wells Fargo executive claimed she was raped by a supervisor while on a business trip and said the bank created a hostile work environment, failed to protect her from sexual harassment and retaliated against her, according to a lawsuit filed at Los Angeles County Superior was filed in court.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, details an escalating pattern of sexually harassing comments, groping and attacks by Eric R. Pagel, a senior investment strategist and chief executive at Wells Fargo, which began shortly after the plaintiff identified as Jane Doe was hired in April 2018 as a senior vice President and Financial Advisor.

According to the complaint, Pagel raped Doe in a Bakersfield hotel room in January 2020 while intoxicated.

According to the lawsuit, Pagel twice groped Doe and exposed her to inappropriate comments in the two years prior to the alleged rape, but Doe remained silent, fearing a complaint would hurt her career. Then, in February 2020, a few weeks after the alleged rape, she complained to her immediate boss about comments Pagel had made, but was dismissed.

Doe filed a formal complaint with the company about the rape in November 2020, but “no meaningful investigation was conducted,” the lawsuit said. “Rather, the plaintiff was treated unfavorably in relation to her employment.”

Resources for sexual assault survivors

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual violence, you can find support through RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline. Call (800) 656-HOPE or visit online.rainn.org to speak to a trained support specialist.

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Laurie W. Kight declined to comment on the allegations in the complaint.

“We take all allegations of wrongdoing very seriously and are reviewing the lawsuit,” Kight said in an email.

Pagel declined comment and referred a reporter to Wells Fargo.

Doe, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said in an interview that as her case dragged on without resolution, she increasingly felt that she couldn’t trust the company. She said the work had become unbearable and she cried several times a day.

“I got gasped by Wells Fargo,” Doe said. “It was a great betrayal.”

According to the lawsuit, Pagel often remarked on Doe’s appearance and made demeaning comments about other women.

He made sexually explicit comments and repeatedly suggested that Doe trade sex for money, and said Doe should divorce her husband and sleep with a wealthy client’s son, according to the complaint.

Pagel would regularly invite Doe out for drinks alone. He also often invited them to visit his second home in Lake Tahoe without their families — requests which Doe turned down, the lawsuit said.

Pagel groped Doe on October 15, 2018 at a business event in Beverly Hills and again on January 29, 2019 at a corporate event hosted for clients at a hotel, the lawsuit alleges. Doe pushed Pagel’s hand away on both occasions.

On January 28, 2020, a team of six Wells Fargo employees, including Doe and Pagel, drove to the Padre Hotel in Bakersfield to meet with several wealthy clients. The group met for a drink in the hotel lobby and then went to dinner around 7pm

While Doe and a female colleague walked away to use the restroom during dinner, Pagel and three male colleagues allegedly took inappropriate photos of themselves on Doe’s phone, the suit said.

After more drinks at a bar, where Doe was becoming increasingly drunk, the group returned to the hotel.

The next morning, Doe’s memory of the night before was fragmented and unclear. Putting her memories together, she remembered that there had been a knock on her door; When she opened it, “Pagel barged in” and began kissing and raping her, according to the complaint. On Jan. 31, she confronted Pagel, the lawsuit said, and he told her they had had sex without birth control on a number of occasions.

In early February, Doe called her gynecologist to see if she could drug test her systems and administer a rape kit. Her doctor informed her that too much time had passed for the tests to be effective. Doe was embarrassed and reluctant to formally report the incident, she said in the complaint.

Pagel allegedly continued to make inappropriate comments and later that month told Doe that she should be paired with a wealthy client because that client had a sexual relationship with his secretary and would also find Doe attractive, the lawsuit states.

On February 27, she told her line manager that she was uncomfortable with Pagel’s comments. The supervisor brushed off her concerns, the lawsuit said, and suggested that she shouldn’t give Pagel a “window of opportunity” to be inappropriate.

Doe was “emotionally devastated to the point of paralysis” in the months that followed at the thought of her sexual assault and the “calvary attitude” of her line manager, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges Doe faced retaliation — that her clients were reassigned without her knowledge, she was removed from important communications and her bosses threatened to ban her from high-profile accounts.

On November 13, 2020, more than eight months after the alleged rape, Doe filed a formal report with the company’s ethics hotline. Doe filed a complaint with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department station in Lomita the same day.

The company did nothing to investigate the incident for months and failed to seek testimony from Doe or ask for names of witnesses until April 2021 after Doe filed a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sources in said the lawsuit. Doe took sick leave that month due to anxiety and depression, and the company began collecting her statements during that time.

The company’s investigation dragged on, and Doe was asked to participate in an “interactive dialogue,” the lawsuit said.

Doe eventually resigned from the bank in July 2021.

Doe and her attorney, Ronald Zambrano of West Coast Trial Lawyers, said detectives had made no progress in their investigation and had declined to press charges against Pagel.

On October 21, 2021, Doe received an email from Wells Fargo’s Ethics Hotline informing her that the case she had filed had been closed. it did not reveal the company’s resolve or other details.

“Where appropriate, corrective action has been or will be taken in accordance with Wells Fargo policy,” the note reads, according to a screenshot verified by The Times.

Wells Fargo spokesman Kight did not respond to questions about Pagel’s continued employment with the company.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and monetary compensation for unspecified general, consequential and special damages, including lost income, physical injury and illness, emotional distress, medical expenses and attorneys’ fees. The lawsuit also seeks punitive damages from Wells Fargo for failure to prevent harmful conduct and from named defendants for wrongful or malicious conduct.

https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2023-02-07/wells-fargo-sued-over-sexual-misconduct-complaint Executive sues Wells Fargo for inaction on sexual misconduct

Alley Einstein

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