Executive sues Wells Fargo for inaction over sexual misconduct

Content Warning: This story includes descriptions of sexual assault.

A former Wells Fargo executive has alleged she was raped by a superior while on a work trip and says the bank created a hostile work environment, failed to protect her from sexual harassment and had retaliated against her, according to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Search.

The lawsuit filed Thursday describes an escalation of comments of sexual harassment, groping and assault by Eric R. Pagel, senior investment strategist and managing director of Wells Fargo, which began shortly after the plaintiff was hired, identified as Jane Doe, in April 2018. as Senior Vice President and Wealth Management Advisor.

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

According to the lawsuit, Pagel groped Doe twice and subjected her to inappropriate comments in the two years before the alleged rape, but Doe remained silent because she feared complaining would harm her career. Then, in February 2020, weeks after the alleged rape, she complained to her immediate boss about comments Pagel had made, but was brushed off.

Doe filed a formal complaint with the company about the rape in November 2020, but “no serious investigation followed,” the suit said. “Instead, the plaintiff was subjected to adverse actions regarding her employment.”

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

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

Pagel declined to comment, referring a reporter to Wells Fargo.

Doe, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said in an interview that as her case dragged on unresolved, she increasingly felt she could not trust the company. She said the work became unbearable and she cried several times a day.

“I was enlightened by Wells Fargo,” Doe said. “It was a huge betrayal.”

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

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

Pagel regularly invited Doe to drink alone. He also often invited her to visit his second home in Lake Tahoe without their families — requests that Doe refused, according to the lawsuit.

Pagel groped Doe at a business event in Beverly Hills on October 15, 2018, and then again on January 29, 2019, at a corporate event for hotel guests, according to the lawsuit. Doe fended off Pagel’s hand on both counts.

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

During dinner, as Doe and a co-worker walked away to use the restroom, Pagel and three male co-workers allegedly took inappropriate photos of themselves on Doe’s phone, the suit said.

After several drinks at a bar, where Doe grew increasingly drunk, the group returned to the hotel.

The next morning, Doe’s memory of the previous evening was fragmented and unclear. Gathering her memories, she recalls receiving a knock at her door; when she opened it, Pagel “barged in,” began kissing and raping her, according to the complaint. On January 31, she confronted Pagel, according to the lawsuit, and he told her that they had had sex several times without contraceptives.

In early February, Doe called her gynecologist to inquire about drug testing in her system and the administration of 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 report the incident through official channels, she said in the complaint.

Pagel allegedly continued to make inappropriate comments, telling Doe later that month that she should be matched with a wealthy client because that client was having a sexual relationship with his secretary and would also find Doe attractive, according to the lawsuit.

On February 27, she told her immediate supervisor that she was uncomfortable with the comments Pagel had made. The supervisor brushed off her concerns, according to the lawsuit, suggesting she shouldn’t give Pagel a “window of opportunity” to be inappropriate.

Doe, in the following months, “became emotionally distraught to the point of paralysis” at the thought of her sexual assault and the “cavalry attitude” of her direct supervisor, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Doe suffered retaliation – that her clients were reassigned without her knowledge, that she was removed from important communications and that her superiors threatened to exclude her from high-level 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.

For months, the company took no action to investigate the incident, neglecting to take a statement from Doe or request names of witnesses until April 2021, after Doe filed a complaint with the Commission for equal employment opportunity, according to the lawsuit. Doe took sick leave that month for anxiety and depression, and the company began collecting his statement during that time.

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

Doe eventually resigned from the bank in July 2021.

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

On October 21, 2021, Doe received an email from the Wells Fargo Ethics Line advising her that the case she had filed had been dismissed; he did not reveal the company’s determination or other details.

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

Kight, the Wells Fargo spokesman, did not respond to questions about whether Pagel was still employed at the company.

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

Los Angeles Times

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