- Wells Fargo is hindering an investigation into sexual harassment charges against the bank, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has alleged in a lawsuit.
- The complaining employee and the bank have settled the complaint, but EEOC is moving forward with an investigation because it believes the alleged actions were widespread, it told the court. The agency served Wells Fargo with a subpoena that requested, among other things, information about other employees working for the alleged harasser.
- According to EEOC, Wells Fargo has refused to comply, in part because the original complaint was settled.
This suit is the most recent development in a debate about the federal government's ability to investigate employers without an unresolved employee complaint.
Federal appeals courts are split on the issue, with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals joining the debate just last month. The court held that the EEOC was free to continue with an investigation even after issuing a right-to-sue letter. (When an employee files a charge with EEOC, the commission either takes up their charge or issues such a letter, putting the employee on notice that EEOC is dismissing the charge and that he or she may pursue the claim in court, if desired.)
A continuing EEOC investigation after a right-to-sue letter is issued — or after a settlement agreement is reached — certainly may come as a surprise to businesses. For now, employers will need to comply with applicable circuit precedent.