LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A 65-year-old former Wells Fargo Bank employee is suing her ex-employer, alleging she was wrongfully terminated in 2021 because of her age and for complaining about allegedly unsafe coronavirus protocol conditions at her branch and the alleged sexual harassment of a teller by a customer.
Vanita Dhupar’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit also alleges harassment, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination and harassment, failure to provide reasonable accommodations and engage in the interactive process and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
A Wells Fargo representative issued a statement Thursday regarding the suit.
“Wells Fargo has zero tolerance for discrimination and acts of retaliation,” the statement read. “In addition, we have strong equal employment opportunity policies in place to protect employees from discrimination, harassment or retaliation for filing a complaint. Throughout the pandemic, we implemented extensive health and safety precautions to protect our employees and customers.”
Dhupar, of Placentia, was hired as a teller in 1996 and rose in the bank to become a service manager in 2004, the suit states
“She was especially adept at pleasing customers and mentoring her subordinates,” the suit states.
While the average age of Wells Fargo managers was once more than 50 years of age, that number has since dropped to around age 45, leaving Dhupar at the time as one of the few remaining managers over age 60, according to the suit.
In 2019, a Wells Fargo assistance manager told tellers and bankers during a morning meeting that Dhupar was going to retire by March of that year, an incorrect statement that the plaintiff believes was part of the bank’s “long-running scheme” to push her out of her job, the suit states.
Although Dhupar received praise for her work as a service manager and sought further promotions, she was never elevated again, even though younger employees were offered training and promotion opportunities, according to the suit.
Management’s treatment of Dhupar worsened after she complained of the bank’s handling of employees’ health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the suit states.
“As a frontline worker, she risked her life and safety to keep her branch running smoothly in light of the unknowns the global pandemic presented,” the suit states.
But Dhupar’s efforts went unappreciated by management, the suit alleges.
“In fact, they knowingly and consistently ignored rules set in place by local, state and federal agencies … and punished plaintiff for making safety related complaints,” the suit states.
When several branch employees became sick with COVID-19 in early November 2020, management did not give proper notice to employees, nor did it take subsequent safety measures for the workers who stayed on their jobs, the suit states.
“Plaintiff became increasingly concerned as the number of infected employees continued to rise while (management) refused to inform employees that were potentially exposed and did not take the necessary safety precautions to curb the possibility of infections among employees,” the suit states.
An employee who worked closely with Dhupar tested positive for the virus, but the plaintiff did not find out until she heard about it through office gossip, the suit states.
When the branch became short-staffed because of the ongoing infections, management did not perform contact tracing or take other appropriate steps because they were concerned about profits and did not want the location to close, the suit states.
In December 2020, a teller in tears told Dhupar that a well-known customer had inappropriately touched her and showed her lewd photos in the parking lot, the suit states. Dhupar reported the incident to a district manager who did not seem to care about what happened to the teller, but was instead “very upset and concerned” that the plaintiff had sent the email with a “troublesome” title, the suit states.
Dhupar believes the district manager did not want Dhupar to “leave a paper trail of sexual harassment because it would look bad for the company,” the suit states.
Dhupar alleges that in retaliation for coming forward on the coronavirus and sexual harassment issues, management changed her schedule, accused her of falsifying time cards and began treating her differently in other ways as well, the suit states. She went on stress leave in January 2021, but management continually called her and two months later accused her of abandoning her job, worsening her anxiety, the suit states.
Dhupar was terminated in June 2021, an action she believes was related to her age and her protests about coronavirus safety and the teller’s alleged sexual harassment, the suit states. Management said her position was eliminated, but she was not offered alternative employment, according to the suit.
Three months later, Wells Fargo sent Dhupar a message stating that she owed the bank money, which she believes was done to discourage her from suing, the complaint states.
Since losing her job, Dhupar continues to suffer severe emotional distress, the suit states.