WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today a comprehensive settlement agreement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with Wells Fargo & Company to ensure equal access for individuals with disabilities to Wells Fargo’s services nationwide, including its nearly 10,000 retail banking, brokerage and mortgage stores, over 12,000 ATMs, and its telephone and website services.

The agreement resolves numerous ADA complaints filed by individuals who are deaf, are hard of hearing or have speech disabilities who allege that Wells Fargo would not do business with them over the phone using a telecommunications relay service. Instead, the individuals were directed to call a TTY/TDD line that asked them to leave a message, which went unanswered. Wells Fargo started addressing these customers’ concerns before the Justice Department investigation began. Once the department opened an investigation, Wells Fargo worked cooperatively to achieve a comprehensive settlement addressing all ADA issues in its retail banking and financial services.

“Individuals who have disabilities must not be denied equal access to the services offered by financial institutions simply because of their disability. Wells Fargo has shown that it is committed to equal access and effective communication with its customers who have disabilities,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The department is aware that other major financial institutions are refusing to communicate with individuals with disabilities who use relay services to communicate by telephone. These refusals are discrimination, and other financial institutions must follow Wells Fargo’s example and accept relay calls immediately.”

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to working with the Civil Rights Division to help ensure that businesses in this district fully comply with the ADA,” said Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, which is where Wells Fargo is headquartered.

Wells Fargo will pay up to $16 million to compensate individuals harmed by certain violations of Title III of the ADA. The department will be administering a claims process to distribute these funds. Individuals who believe they were harmed by Wells Fargo’s failure to comply with ADA requirements may get information about filing a claim by sending an email to wfclaims@usdoj.gov or by calling 1-866-708-1273 (voice) or 1-866-544-5309 (TTY). Information on the claims process is also available on the ADA home page at www.ada.gov.

Wells Fargo will also pay a $55,000 civil penalty to the United States. In addition, Wells Fargo affirms its commitment to advancing the interests of individuals with disabilities by paying a total of $1 million in charitable donations to non-profit organizations that will assist veterans with disabilities resulting from injuries sustained while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan to live independently in the community.

Finally, the agreement requires Wells Fargo to take the following steps to improve access for customers with disabilities:

Remove physical barriers to access, as required, at its retail stores across the nation and remedy all other instances of discrimination under Title III of the ADA that are identified during the claims process.

Provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language interpreters, computer-assisted real time transcription, qualified readers and documents in Braille, large print, and other alternate formats to persons with disabilities when necessary to ensure effective communication throughout its financial services and programs.

Adopt and enforce a policy on effective communication with individuals who are deaf, are hard of hearing, are blind or have low vision for all Wells Fargo retail stores and financial services nationwide, post a summary of the policy on its website and distribute the policy to current and new employees and contractors.

Accept calls made through a relay service operator by customers who are deaf, are hard of hearing or have speech disabilities on an equivalent basis to calls from other customers. This includes eliminating special security provisions applied to relay calls and using the same caller verification procedures whether or not a customer uses a relay service.

Maintain staffing of phone lines dedicated to TTYs / TDDs, wherever provided, on a basis equivalent to telephone lines that are not dedicated to TTYs / TDDs.

Ensure that its ATMs and websites are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Establish a toll-free ADA comment/complaint line so customers with disabilities have an easy avenue for alerting Wells Fargo to concerns about disability-related problems accessing goods, services and facilities.

Hire a full-time national ADA coordinator to coordinate Wells Fargo’s efforts to comply with its responsibilities under the ADA and this agreement, including the investigation of ADA complaints received on its ADA comment/complaint line.

Provide staff training on the ADA and Wells Fargo’s obligations to provide effective communication to individuals with disabilities.

Post and maintain in a conspicuous location in all Wells Fargo banking stores a notice stating that individuals with disabilities have a right under the ADA to request a sign language or oral interpreter or other auxiliary aids or services.

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by businesses that serve the public. Among other things, the ADA requires financial institutions, accountants, lawyers, doctors and other businesses to provide auxiliary aids and services that are necessary for effective communication. For individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, auxiliary aids include qualified sign language or oral interpreters, use of relay services, computer-assisted real time transcription, and, for simple communications, the exchange of written notes. For individuals who are blind or have low vision, auxiliary aids include qualified readers, assistance in filling out forms and written materials provided in alternate formats, such as Braille, large print, audio recordings or accessible electronic formats such as email or HTML.

Those interested in finding out more about this agreement or businesses’ obligations under the ADA may call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov. ADA complaints may be filed by email to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov. For the settlement and fact sheet on this announcement, please visit www.ada.gov/wells_fargo/.

Source: Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 16th, 2011 at 6:00 pm and is filed under News.