In the years following George Floyd’s death, many companies have introduced internal efforts to increase their diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”) initiatives to protect those who have historically been disadvantaged. However, it is important that these companies are honest about their efforts, but in at least one case, it has been alleged a brokerage firm was repeatedly not honest.
Wells Fargo is at the center of Environmental, Social, and Governance (“ESG”) related lawsuits deriving from allegedly conducting fake job interviews to diverse applicants, in efforts to comply with their “Diverse Slating Policy.” On their second attempt at suing Wells Fargo, shareholders commenced a lawsuit alleging that both Wells Fargo and members of their board misrepresented the firm’s DEI initiatives and deprived job opportunities from members of underrepresented groups, groups the initiatives were meant to help. As the “S” in “ESG” stands for “social,” the topic of DEI falls underneath that umbrella. Many companies that establish policies to “enhance” diversity in the workplace fail to implement and/or report such practices, resulting in substantial scrutiny from both investors and the SEC.
“Well-intentioned people created these initiatives, but when they hit the ground, the energy was devoted not to implementing them but finding a way to get around them,” according to Linda Friedman, a lawyer who settled a class-action suit on behalf of 320 black financial advisors for $36 million in 2017 after the advisors sued the company for allegedly positioning them to work in poor neighborhoods while seemingly affording white financial advisors to newer clients and better opportunities. Following this lawsuit, along with the overwhelming impact of George Floyd’s death in 2020, many companies, including Wells Fargo, issued a “diverse slate” policy, otherwise known as a diverse search requirement. Specifically, Wells Fargo’s policy allegedly asserted that at least 50% of the prospective job candidates who are interviewed must represent a disadvantaged group or some kind of diversity component (including race/ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ, veterans, and people with disabilities) for most posted positions in the U.S. with compensation greater than $100,000 per year. See Complaint filed 6/28/22. Although this may seem like a step in the right direction, it is quite the contrary because over the following years, it is alleged that the policy caused confusion throughout the firm and resulted in negatively impacting the people these initiatives were intended to help.