Blog: Wells Fargo worker fired for fake dime files civil rights complaint
Date Published: 09-05-2012
The following article was published in the Des Moines Register on September 5, 2012:
By Victor Epstein
Richard Eggers, a 68-year-old call center worker fired for putting a cardboard cutout of a dime in a laundry machine in 1963, has filed state and federal civil rights complaints against his former employer, the firm that did his criminal background check, and federal banking regulators.
The Des Moines man filed them with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Iowa Civil Rights Commission on Aug. 29, according to attorney Leonard Bates, who is representing him for the Newkirk Law Firm. The complaints clear the way for a possible class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of low-level bank employees like Eggers, who have been fired this year under tightened regulations meant to deter the kind of high-level excesses that helped precipitate the global financial crisis, Bates said.
"We have to exhaust our administrative remedies under the law and that's why we've filed these complaints," he said.
The complaints allege discrimination on the basis of age, sex and disability. They are directed against Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, First Advantage, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and the board of directors of the Federal Reserve.
The Iowa Civil Rights Commission and EEOC typically decide whether complaints merit investigation a few months after receiving them. They then can dismiss them or launch an investigation of their own, which can result in a lawsuit or settlement against the defendant years later.
"We're not going to wait that long," Bates said.
Wells Fargo employed Eggers as a call center employee for seven years before a criminal background check by First Advantage determined the Vietnam Veteran had a prior arrest for fraud. Court documents indicate he was actually arrested and convicted of "operating a coin changing machine by false means."
Eggers was fired in July because of the long-ago arrest. Wells Fargo maintains that it had no choice but to let him and others go under the tighter regulations, which include $1 million a day fines. FDIC Spokesman Greg Hernandez said the agency does not discuss pending litigation.
The rules also preclude anyone who has spent a day in jail for a transactional crime from qualifying for the FDIC's automatic waiver process. Eggers spent two days in jail in 1963 after his arrest.
The regulations are unfair to older workers because it was more common for people to be jailed for minor offenses decades ago, Bates said. They also disproportionately punish members of minority groups, who are more likely to have been raised in poor communities where they engaged in criminal activity to meet basic needs, he said.
One of the other employees Wells Fargo fired under the tighter regulations was Yolanda Quesada, a 58-year-old Milwaukee woman who was convicted of shoplifting clothes for work 40 years ago.
The complaints contain language that's typically reserved for class-action lawsuits.
"This complaint is intended to place Wells Fargo, First Advantage, and the FDIC on notice of class-wide intentional and unintentional forms of systemic discrimination affecting protected classes of applicants and employees who are adversely affected by the above-mentioned background check policy," the document filed with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission says. "This charge is brought on behalf of myself and similarly-situated protected classes of applicants and employees."