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Wells Fargo to pay $32 million to settle gender discrimination suit


NEW YORK (Reuters)—A federal judge signaled that she would approve a settlement calling for Wells Fargo & Co. to pay $32 million to about 1,200 female financial advisors who claimed they were paid less than men and denied promotions because of their gender.

At a hearing on Wednesday in the federal court in Washington, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly indicated she was satisfied with material terms of the accord but wants to review technical details, according to Cyrus Mehri, a lawyer for the financial advisors.

The settlement also requires Wells Fargo to implement a four-year program to strengthen training and efforts to promote female financial advisors, and help ensure that more lucrative customer accounts were allocated fairly, court records showed. Wells Fargo also agreed to oversight by an outside monitor.

"It is a major step in trying to bring about change in the largest brokerages, so that female brokers can compete on a level playing field, on their merits," Mr. Mehri said in an interview.

According to its website, Wells Fargo brokerage unit Wells Fargo Advisors has nearly 16,000 brokers, roughly as many as at the brokerage unit of Bank of America Corp. and slightly fewer than the number at Morgan Stanley.

Firm denies charges

"While Wells Fargo Advisors has consistently denied the allegations of discrimination, the firm believes resolving this matter is in the best interests of the company," said a spokesman for the San Francisco-based bank.

Three female financial advisors at the brokerage unit of the former Wachovia Corp had sued Wells Fargo in September 2009, alleging discrimination dating to 2003. Wells Fargo, the fourth-largest U.S. bank by assets, bought Wachovia on Dec. 31, 2008.

Other firms

The accord also covers various workers at brokerage units of Wachovia, A.G. Edwards Inc. and Prudential Financial Inc. Wachovia took control of Prudential's brokerage unit in 2003, and bought A.G. Edwards in 2007. An initial settlement in the case had been reached in December.

Mr. Mehri said the average payout would be about $18,000 per individual, after accounting for about $9.6 million of legal fees and some monitoring costs.

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