Duval County

Wells Fargo’s push for diversity leads to ‘fake interviews,’ whistleblower claims

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Wells Fargo’s push for diversity led to “fake interviews,” according to a former company executive in Jacksonville.

Joe Bruno, the Jacksonville market leader, oversaw all 14 branches in the area and led recruitment and diversity efforts. But he said one company policy didn’t settle well.

RELATED STORY: Former Jacksonville Wells Fargo exec says company held fake job interviews for minority candidates

Bruno claims he was told by Wells Fargo leadership to interview for jobs that were already promised to someone else. At least one of the candidates had to be a female or a person of color.

“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,” he told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant. “These are real human beings on the other side of the table. They have families. I have a family. It’s just wrong.”

His concerns were first exposed in a New York Times article. According to the report, six other former and current employees were told by their direct bosses to do similar interviews.

Bruno said he was in charge of diversity efforts starting in 2019 and often spoke up about the practice.

“I was told after that conversation, ‘Joe you’re breaking a lot of glass. You need to slow down. In fact, it’s beyond slowing down, you just need to stop,’” he said.

In August 2021, Bruno was fired.

Wells Fargo has faced allegations of discrimination in the past. In August 2020, the company agreed to pay $7.8 million in back wages and interest to resolve allegations of hiring discrimination by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The department claimed Wells Fargo discriminated against 34,193 African American applicants and 308 female applicants for positions nationwide.

STORY: ‘I was shocked’: Video shows man attacking woman at Jacksonville gas station

Wells Fargo also agreed to provide 580 of the affected people with job opportunities.

Since 2020, a Wells Fargo representative said it put in guidelines requiring diverse candidate slates for the majority of jobs paying more than $100,000 a year. Since then, the company said its seen significant improvements.

There has since been a 27% increase in external hiring of candidates from racially diverse populations. There has also been an increase in female hires by 23%.

In a statement to Action News Jax, a representative said, “The numbers tell the story of progress in a fact-based, quantitative way. They demonstrate clear, measurable outcomes. We believe in diverse slates, and the results show they are working.”

Wells Fargo said it could not corroborate the claims made by whistleblowers, but said it continues to investigate internally and will take decisive action if anything comes up.

Bruno said he’s not giving up his fight for inclusion nationwide. “Unless you shine a light on the problem, it’s going to continue,” he said.

He has since started a website called the White Response Project: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion - White Response Project.