Earlier this week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a case brought by the city of Miami, suing Wells Fargo and Bank of America for discriminatory lending during the housing bubble, could proceed. In court documents revealed last week, shareholders had brought a lawsuit against Wells Fargo alleging that Latinos, and even undocumented workers, were targeted in the sales scandal that has roiled the bank since last year.
But on Tuesday night in New York City, something interesting occurred: Wells Fargo received an honor for diversity, making the annual DiversityInc list of the 50 most diverse companies in the world. It even cracked the top 10 for the first time this year.
Wells Fargo hasn't had much good news to crow about amid the fraudulent accounts scandal — on Tuesday the city of Philadelphia fired Wells Fargo as manager of its $2 billion payroll account. "Time and time again their actions have revealed them to be the antithesis of corporate social responsibility," Philadelphia Councilwoman Cindy Bass said in a statement.
One of the reasons the bank was honored for diversity: the Wells Fargo board. The same board that many shareholders and grassroots organizations contend was negligent in its oversight of the sales culture. But it gets high marks for its diverse composition, including women and minorities. It's fair to ask whether there's a diversity bubble at work here — board diversity that makes a corporation look to be on the right side of history isn't honestly reflecting the bank's impact in the real world and on communities, where allegations of discriminatory lending and minority-targeting of customers persist.
These are just allegations — the Supreme Court was not ruling on the merits of the case, and justices indicated they think Miami will have a hard time proving it. But it's an issue that I thought would make for an interesting interview with Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan, who agreed to give me 45 minutes over the phone this week to discuss the diversity honor. But there were a few strings attached — the sales accounts scandal couldn't be discussed, and my questions had to be sent ahead of time (I didn't do that). I did give Wells Fargo PR a brief rundown over the phone of the issues I would like to discuss (and, I admit, I even tried to be nice). A day later the 45 minutes allotted was reduced to 20 minutes.