Content warning: This story includes descriptions of sexual assault.
A former Wells Fargo executive alleged that she was raped by a superior while on a work trip and said the bank created a hostile work environment, failed to protect her from sexual harassment and retaliated against her, according to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The lawsuit filed Thursday describes an escalating pattern of sexually harassing comments, groping and assault by Eric R. Pagel, a senior investment strategist and managing director at Wells Fargo, that began soon after the plaintiff, identified as Jane Doe, was hired in April 2018 as a senior vice president and wealth advisor.
Pagel raped Doe in a Bakersfield hotel room in January 2020 while she was intoxicated, according to the complaint.
According to the suit, Pagel groped Doe twice and subjected her to inappropriate comments in the two years prior to the alleged rape, but Doe kept quiet because she feared complaining would damage her career. Then, in February 2020, a few weeks after the alleged rape, she complained to her immediate boss about comments Pagel had made, but was brushed off.
Doe filed a formal complaint with the company about the rape in November 2020, but “no meaningful investigation ensued,” the suit said. “Rather, Plaintiff was subjected to adverse actions regarding her employment.”
Resources for survivors of sexual assault
If you or someone you know is the victim of sexual violence, you can find support using RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline. Call (800) 656-HOPE or visit online.rainn.org to speak with a trained support specialist.
Wells Fargo spokesperson Laurie W. Kight declined to comment on the complaint’s allegations.
“We take all allegations of misconduct very seriously and are reviewing the lawsuit,” Kight said in an email.
Pagel declined to comment, referring a reporter to Wells Fargo.
Doe, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in an interview that as her case dragged on without resolution, she increasingly felt she couldn’t trust the company. She said work became unbearable, and she would cry multiple times a day.
“I was being gaslighted by Wells Fargo,” Doe said. “It was a huge betrayal.”
Pagel would often remark on Doe’s appearance and made demeaning comments about other women, according to the lawsuit.
He made sexually explicit comments, repeatedly suggesting Doe should exchange sex for money, and he said Doe should divorce her husband and sleep with a wealthy client’s son, according to the complaint.
Pagel regularly invited Doe to drinks alone. He also often invited her to visit his second home in Lake Tahoe without their families — requests that Doe declined, the lawsuit said.
Pagel groped Doe at a business event in Beverly Hills on Oct. 15, 2018, and again on Jan. 29, 2019, at a company event hosted for clients at a hotel, the lawsuit said. Doe pushed Pagel’s hand away in both instances.
On Jan. 28, 2020, a team of six Wells Fargo employees including Doe and Pagel drove to the Padre Hotel in Bakersfield to meet with several high-net-worth clients. The group met for drinks in the hotel lobby, then went to dinner around 7 p.m.
During dinner, while Doe and a female colleague stepped away to use the restroom, Pagel and three male colleagues allegedly took inappropriate pictures of themselves on Doe’s phone, the suit said.
After more drinks at a bar, where Doe became increasingly intoxicated, the group returned to the hotel.
The next morning, Doe’s memory of the previous evening was fragmented and unclear. Piecing her recollections together, she recalled receiving a knock on her door; when she opened it, Pagel “barged in,” began kissing her and raped her, according to the complaint. On Jan. 31, she confronted Pagel, the lawsuit said, and he told her they had had sex multiple times without contraceptives.
In early February, Doe called her gynecologist to inquire about testing her systems for drugs and administering a rape kit. Her doctor informed her that too much time had passed for tests to be effective. Doe was embarrassed and hesitant to report the incident through formal channels, she said in the complaint.
Pagel allegedly continued to make inappropriate comments, telling Doe later that month she should be paired with a wealthy client because that client was having a sexual relationship with his secretary and would also find Doe attractive, the lawsuit said.
On Feb. 27, she told her immediate supervisor that she was uncomfortable with comments Pagel had made. The supervisor brushed off her concerns, the lawsuit said, suggesting she should not give Pagel a “window of opportunity” to be inappropriate.
Doe, in the following months, “became emotionally distressed to the point of paralysis” with the thought of her sexual assault and the “cavalier attitude” of her direct supervisor, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit alleges Doe experienced retaliation — that clients of hers were reassigned without her knowledge, she was removed from important communications and her superiors threatened to exclude her from high-profile accounts.
On Nov. 13, 2020, more than eight months after the alleged rape, Doe filed a formal report with the company’s ethics hotline. Doe filed a complaint with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s station in Lomita the same day.
The company for months did not take action to investigate the incident, neglecting to collect a statement from Doe or ask for names of witnesses until April 2021, after Doe made a formal charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the lawsuit said. Doe went on medical leave that month for anxiety and depression, and the company began collecting her statement during that period.
The company’s investigation dragged on, and Doe was asked to engage in an “interactive dialogue,” the suit said.
Doe ultimately resigned from the bank in July 2021.
Doe and her attorney Ronald Zambrano of West Coast Trial Lawyers said detectives did not make headway in their investigation and declined to pursue criminal charges against Pagel.
On Oct. 21, 2021, Doe received an emailed message from the Wells Fargo ethics line informing her the case she’d filed had been closed; it did not reveal the company’s determination or other specifics.
“If appropriate, corrective actions have been or will be taken in accordance with Wells Fargo policy,” the note said, according to a screenshot reviewed by The Times.
Kight, the Wells Fargo spokesperson, did not respond to questions about whether Pagel was still employed at the company.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and monetary relief for unspecified general, consequential and special damages including losses in earnings, physical injuries and illness, emotional distress, medical expenses and attorney fees. The complaint also seeks punitive damages from Wells Fargo for failing to prevent harmful conduct and from named defendants for acting wrongfully or maliciously.