The Navajo Nation has sued Wells Fargo, saying its citizens were targeted by workers trying to meet the bank’s aggressive sales quotas.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Albuquerque, alleges many of the same practices that led to last year’s $185-million settlement between Wells Fargo and regulators, including the creation of unauthorized banking accounts, credit cards and other products.
But the lawsuit also goes further, alleging that the San Francisco bank targeted particularly vulnerable members of the Navajo Nation, including minors, the elderly and those who do not speak English. It also alleges that Wells Fargo lied to the tribe when, in a letter sent early this year, it said no tribal members were harmed by the bank’s sales practices.
“This shows a specific targeting of an ethnic community in the United States and, within that, subgroups of vulnerable Navajos,” said John Hueston, a Los Angeles attorney representing the tribe. “It’s a level of exploitation of a vulnerable community that has not surfaced in other cases to date.”
The nation is seeking damages, fines and penalties of more than $50 million, Hueston said.
Wells Fargo spokesman Jim Seitz said in a statement that the bank could not comment on ongoing litigation, but he reiterated steps the bank has taken to compensate consumers and change practices in the wake of last year’s accounts scandal.
“Over the past year we have taken significant steps to make things right for our customers, including members of the Navajo Nation, who may have been affected by unacceptable retail sales practices,” he said.
The bank has eliminated the sales goals that, along with pressure from managers and lax oversight from top executives, were blamed for pushing workers to open sham accounts and credit cards for customers. It has also agreed to pay $142 million in a class-action settlement that will be open to all customers who had unauthorized accounts opened in their names since 2002.
Wells Fargo is the only major bank that has locations within the Navajo Nation, Hueston said.