Allegations that Wells Fargo misrepresented its efforts to increase its hiring diversity by interviewing more women and people of color for jobs that were no longer available has drawn the attention of federal prosecutors.
A criminal investigation is now underway, according to a report from ABC News.
The latest development follows a New York Times report published in May. The story cited several current and former Wells Fargo employees who said the bank routinely interviewed women and people of color for jobs it had already offered to other candidates, ostensibly to fulfill its own diversity-hiring mandate.
In response to the Times' report, Wells Fargo announced it had "paused" the policy that led to job interviews allegedly granted under false pretenses.
“No one should be put through an interview without a real chance of receiving an offer, period," the company said in a statement. "The diverse slate guidelines we put in place are meant to increase diverse representation across the company and we can see meaningful results in our hiring data since 2020."
“At the same time," it added, "it’s important that implementation of our guidelines is consistent.”
Wells Fargo declined to comment on the investigation.
The Times interviewed seven current and former Wells Fargo employees who said they "were instructed by their direct bosses or human resources managers in the bank’s wealth management unit to interview "diverse" candidates, even though the decision had already been made to give the job to another candidate.
The Times reported that five other employees said they were aware of the practice or had helped to arrange it.
Wells Fargo has been rocked by multiple scandals in recent years, causing many people in its top management ranks to leave the company in 2020. A fraudulent accounts scandal revealed in 2016 dealt a major blow to the institution and put the bank on the hook for billions of dollars in fines.
Last month, Wells Fargo Advisors was fined $7 million in a Securities and Exchange Commission probe into failures in money laundering oversight.