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Ex-Wells Fargo executive accuses superior of rape and bank of slow-footing investigation

A former senior vice president of Wells Fargo has filed a lawsuit alleging she was raped by a colleague, and is accusing three other co-workers of enabling the assault.

And when she raised the incident with Wells Fargo officials, the bank did not expeditiously investigate the allegations, the lawsuit claims.  

The accuser, referred to as Jane Doe in the suit, names Eric R. Pagel, a Wells Fargo senior investment strategist and managing director, as her alleged attacker. She alleges Pagel repeatedly subjected her to unwanted advances, groping and sexually denigrating comments, both before and after the alleged incident took place.

It was not immediately clear whether Pagel continues to work at Wells Fargo. Reached by text message, he referred a request for comment to Wells Fargo, which issued a brief statement.

“We take all allegations of misconduct very seriously,” spokesperson Richele Messick said in an email. “We just learned of the lawsuit today and are reviewing it.”

The accusations represent another negative mark for a bank that has faced numerous federal inquiries into its practices. Most recently, it paid $3.7 billion to settle a slew of alleged consumer abuses in the wake of what regulators called its “rinse-repeat cycle of violating the law.”

Wells Fargo has also been the subject of media reports describing a “toxic culture” that led to employees creating millions of fake bank accounts, a scandal that led to the ouster of longtime CEO John Stumpf.

According to Jane Doe’s complaint, filed Thursday, the alleged attack occurred during a business trip to Bakersfield, California, on Jan. 23, 2020. That evening, the complaint states, Doe and the defendants went to dinner and a bar, where they “consumed copious amounts of alcohol, and Doe became intoxicated.”

Afterward, David Weitzel, a senior vice president named as a defendant by Doe, walked Doe back to her hotel room. Soon thereafter, Pagel knocked on her door, forced his way in and raped her, the complaint states.

Reached by text message, Weitzel indicated he and the other defendants named in the suit, Mark Peterson and Brian Ray, did not yet have an attorney. Weitzel declined to respond to additional follow-up questions. Peterson and Ray could not be reached for comment.  

About a week later, Doe says in the complaint, she confronted Pagel, and he admitted the pair had sex multiple times. Doe’s suit alleges Pagel acknowledged that he knew she was intoxicated. 

“For the ensuing months,” Doe states, she “was emotionally distressed to the point of paralysis with the thought of her sexual assault.” She also says Weitzel demonstrated a “cavalier attitude” when she pointed out further inappropriate comments.

Doe initially held off on making a formal complaint about the alleged attack through Wells Fargo’s formal channels because she was “too embarrassed and mortified” at the idea of doing so, “catastrophizing scenarios in her head whether she would be believed, blamed, ridiculed, retaliated against and somehow further victimized for speaking up,” the complaint states.

“However, as time passed with the perpetrators living as if nothing happened to her, she eventually built up the courage to speak up,” the complaint states.

On Nov. 13, 2020, Doe finally filed a formal complaint about the assault to the Wells Fargo’s ethics hotline. She subsequently lodged a formal complaint with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

In response to her official complaint, Doe alleges in the suit, Wells Fargo retaliated against her by reassigning her clients to another employee without her input, excluding her from important client communications, and threatening to exclude her from lucrative accounts.  

Doe says Wells Fargo did not begin its internal investigation in earnest until she made a formal charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in April 2021, five months after her internal complaint to the company. 

In a statement, the EEOC said it does not comment on potential filings. 

In July 2021, Doe resigned from Wells Fargo, Doe states in the complaint, “feeling her ongoing employment there “was intolerable to her wellbeing.”

Doe is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for lost wages and benefits, emotional distress, medical expenses, and attorneys’ fees.

“Our client was taken advantage of and raped by a superior, suffering trauma, betrayal, and an utter invasion of personal space that no one should be subjected to in any workplace,” the plaintiff’s attorney, Ron Zambrano of West Coast Trial Lawyers, said in a statement. “Wells Fargo’s response, just sitting on their hands and dragging their feet not even attempting to conduct a competent investigation, is absolutely unacceptable.”

This post appeared first on NBC NEWS

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