Settlement Agreement between United States and Wells Fargo & Company
On May 31, 2011, the Department of Justice reached a settlement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with Wells Fargo & Company ("Wells Fargo"), which offers financial services at nearly 10,000 retail banking and financial services locations nationwide. The settlement resolves an investigation conducted by the Department in response to complaints from multiple individuals with disabilities alleging that Wells Fargo had violated the ADA by failing to accept calls made using relay services, failing to answer calls made with a TTY / TDD and/or requiring these callers to leave messages which never resulted in a return call or access to services available to individuals without disabilities via telephone, failing to provide effective communication through sign language interpreters upon request during meetings with customers who are deaf or hard of hearing, failing to remove physical barriers to access by individuals with mobility disabilities, or otherwise discriminating against individuals in violation of ADA requirements.
The Department's Disability Rights Section and United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California investigated Wells Fargo under Title III of the ADA, confirming, among other things, the allegations regarding the refusal to accept relay calls. Wells Fargo has denied any violations of the ADA but worked cooperatively with the Department to reach a comprehensive resolution without litigation.
In the settlement agreement, Wells Fargo agrees to take the following actions to improve access for individuals with disabilities:
- Prior to entering into this Agreement and on its own volition, Wells Fargo resumed accepting relay calls from customers with disabilities at all of its call centers. To provide equal access to its telephone services for individuals with disabilities, Wells Fargo shall continue to require its employees to accept calls via relay services and already has placed stickers on its telephone equipment reminding employees of this obligation. Wells Fargo already has stopped requiring its employees to refer or transfer any calls made through relay services to phone numbers designated for TTY / TDD devices or to a specific subset of employees designated to handle relay calls.
- Wells Fargo will ensure that, to the extent that is has dedicated telephone lines for TTYs / TDDs, they are staffed, during the same hours, on a basis equivalent to the staffing provided for telephone lines that are not dedicated to TTYs / TDDs.
- Wells Fargo will provide customers and potential customers, and their companions, who are deaf, are hard of hearing, or have speech disabilities with appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language interpreters and oral interpreters, where necessary to ensure effective communication during face-to-face encounters.
- Wells Fargo will provide customers, potential customers, and their companions who are blind or have low vision with appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including documents in alternate formats, where necessary to ensure effective communication. Alternate formats include Braille, large print, audio format, accessible electronic format such as email or HTML, and raised line checks.
- Wells Fargo has adopted and will implement and maintain the Wells Fargo & Company Policy ("Policy") for Effective Communication for Individuals with Disabilities. Wells Fargo will also develop and implement procedures for implementing the Policy for lines of business that offer consumer banking services (e.g., deposits, secured and unsecured lines of credit and loans, credit cards, and retail brokerage). Wells Fargo has already developed and will implement an educational training program regarding its obligations under Title III of the ADA and the Policy to employees and contractors, which has been approved by the Department.
- Wells Fargo will establish a toll-free ADA Comment/Complaint Line to give customers with disabilities an easy way to alert Wells Fargo to access problems or the need for specific disability-related accommodations, and to provide feedback regarding the changes it is making to improve ADA compliance.
- Within ninety days, Wells Fargo will hire or appoint one or more full-time national ADA Coordinator(s) to coordinate Wells Fargo's efforts to comply with its responsibilities under the ADA and the agreement, including the investigation of ADA complaints, the coordination of corrective actions and relief for complainants to resolve ADA Complaints, and maintaining records of ADA Complaints, investigations, and actions taken to comply with the agreement.
- Within 120 days, Wells Fargo will post signage at all of its banking stores stating that it will provide accommodations under the ADA, and stating the contact information for the ADA Coordinator(s).
- Wells Fargo will post a summary description of the Effective Communication Policy in an accessible format on its website, and make the summary description available in alternate formats (such as large print, Braille, audio recording, accessible electronic formats) upon request.
- Wells Fargo will ensure that its approximately 12,100 ATMs nationwide will allow for equal access for individuals with disabilities, including individuals who are blind or have low vision and require speech output to use ATMs. By March 15, 2012, Wells Fargo will ensure that all of its ATMs will comply with all applicable regulations, including the Justice Department's new ADA regulations on ATMs that were published in the Federal Register on September 15, 2010.
- Long before the Justice Department initiated its investigation, Wells Fargo was committed to making its website, at www.wellsfargo.com, accessible to all users, including elements such as images, photographs, charts, and other graphics; customer-related documents and disclosures; videos and other online multimedia content; and online forms. Wells Fargo further commits to making its website accessible by incorporating screen reader-specific features such as skip navigation; ensuring that individuals with low vision and/or who are color blind may manipulate text font and color; providing a way for online visitors to request accessible information or services; and testing of its website pages for accessibility in accordance with internal policies on an annual basis.
- The agreement provides for a claims process in which customers with disabilities can alert the Department of Justice to access issues at Wells Fargo retail stores or in Wells Fargo's services and operations. Within 90 days of being notified by the Department of a physical accessibility issues at a Wells Fargo retail store or of an operational issue which may violate title III of the ADA, Wells Fargo will undertake actions to correct these physical accessibility / operational issues or submit a corrective plan to the Department.
- Wells Fargo will pay up to a total of $16,000,000 in monetary relief to persons harmed by a violation(s) of Title III of the ADA as a result of Wells Fargo's actions or inactions prior to the agreement. The agreement sets out procedures to make individuals with disabilities aware of this funding and the procedures to be followed in submitting claims. The Department will be responsible for determining which claimants will receive a payment and how much each payment will be. More information about filing a claim will be posted on the ADA Home Page at [insert actual address of the instructions for filing a claim]. Individuals who believe they are eligible will be able to begin the process of filing a claim with the Department of Justice by sending an email to WFclaims@usdoj.gov or by calling the Justice Department at 1-866-708-1273 (voice) or 1-866-544-5309 (TTY).
- Wells Fargo will also pay a penalty of $55,000. The parties have agreed that the settlement agreement should be in effect for a period of two years, except that the processing and payment of claims may take up to 5 years and 2 months and certain required actions that are yet to be determined may occur outside the two year term of the agreement.
The Department will be administering the claims process and actively monitoring compliance with this agreement.
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by financial institutions, medical centers, offices of accountants, lawyers, and doctors, and other businesses that serve the public, which are known as places of public accommodation. Under Title III, businesses must accept calls made through relay services from individuals who are deaf, are hard of hearing, or have speech disabilities. TTY and Internet Protocol relay services involve a relay operator who uses both a standard telephone and a TTY or computer terminal to type the voice messages to the TTY / computer user and read the TTY / computer messages to the standard telephone user. Video relay services involve a relay operator who uses both a standard telephone and a computer video terminal to communicate voice messages in sign language to the computer video terminal user and to voice the sign language messages to the standard telephone user.
- The failure to provide auxiliary aids and services when necessary to ensure effective communication. Auxiliary aids and services include, but are not limited to:
- Providing a qualified interpreter or computer-assisted real-time transcription to communicate important, complex, or lengthy matters or exchanging notes to communicate short and simple matters with an individual who is deaf, is hard of hearing, or has a speech impairment;
- Providing wayfinding assistance, help in filling out a form, or a qualified reader to a person who is blind or has low vision; and
- Providing a website that is accessible to individuals with disabilities, including blind individuals who use screen readers to access web content that is visual and providing captions for deaf individuals so they can access web content that is conveyed with sound.
- The failure to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures when necessary to avoid discrimination against individuals with disabilities (e.g., refusing to provide disability-related assistance or refusing to modify a "no pets" policy to allow access by a person with a disability who is accompanied by a service animal);
- The failure to design and construct places of public accommodation so they are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities;
- The failure to make alterations to places of public accommodation so they are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities to the maximum extent feasible; and
- The failure to remove physical and communication barriers to access by individuals with disabilities when it is readily achievable to do so.
More information on the ADA is available on the Department's ADA Home Page at www.ada.gov and at the toll-free ADA Information Line, 1-800-514-0301 (voice) and 1-800-514-0383 (TTY).
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