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Wells Fargo Bond Saleswoman Claims Pay Bias in ‘Boys Club’ Team

(Bloomberg) -- A Wells Fargo & Co. bond saleswoman sued the bank for sex discrimination, claiming she was denied the same promotions and pay as men and forced to endure a “boys’ club” environment.

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Michal Leavitt, a onetime Bear Stearns managing director, filed a lawsuit Friday in Chicago. She says after she joined Wells Fargo’s financial institutions group as a vice president, she was paid up to 50% less than her male colleagues and was never assigned large accounts by a “disproportionately male management.”

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“The financial institutions group is a self-acknowledged ‘boys’ club,’ where ‘locker room talk’ on the sales floor is de rigeur,” Leavitt said in her complaint.

Wells Fargo didn’t have an immediate comment on the suit.

Big banks have long faced allegations of bias against women, with several high-profile cases coming in recent years. Last November, Citigroup Inc. managing director Ardith Lindsey sued the bank for allegedly tolerating years of sexual harassment against her. Last year, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. paid $215 million to settle a long-running class action suit by women alleging compensation and promotion bias.

According to Leavitt’s suit, when she received an offer from Wells Fargo in 2013, she expected to be given a director-level position given her previous role at Bear Stearns but was told bank policy barred hiring commissioned salespeople at levels above vice president. Leavitt claims several men “with comparable — if not less — experience and expertise” were subsequently hired into the group as directors in commission sales roles.

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She herself wasn’t promoted to director at Wells Fargo until 2022, behind a number of male colleagues, Leavitt claims. A major factor in her lack of promotion was the bank’s refusal to assign her large accounts, according to the suit. Without such accounts, she worked hard to develop a “book of business from nothing.”

She is seeking an undisclosed amount in compensatory damages as well as changes to Wells Fargo’s account assignment policies.

Leavitt claims that when she complained about not being assigned large accounts, she was told that there was a perception that her husband “does well” and hers was just a second income. When she first interviewed with the bank, she was asked how having a family would affect her ability to perform, according to the suit.

There is still “a paucity of women in senior leadership roles at most investment banking institutions,” John Singer, a lawyer for Leavitt, said in a statement. “Antiquated and fallacious stereotypes about women traders and salespeople are still harbored and fostered by a large swath of males in coveted positions of power on Wall Street.”

According to the suit, Leavitt unfairly received three negative ratings in her 2023 and 2024 performance evaluations, despite increasing her production by 11% in 2022. When she raised concern she was experiencing sex discrimination, a manager “raised his voice” and became irate, she claims.

The case is Michal Leavitt v Wells Fargo Securities, 24-CV-3140, US District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

--With assistance from Sridhar Natarajan.

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