Wells Fargo, the fourth largest U.S. bank by assets, will pay up to $16 million to compensate deaf customers denied over the phone banking services in violation of the Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The settlement, which was announced this past Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Justice, will resolve numerous complaints alleging the bank refused to do business with them over the phone using telecommunications relay services, and instead directed its deaf customers to leave a message on a TTY/TDD line that went unanswered.
According to documents available on the Department of Justice’s website, Wells Fargo refused the calls due to concerns regarding fraud perpetrated over the phone by individuals using relay services, and says its referred customers using such services to its alternate phone line since March 2009. The bank later began re-accepting such phone calls after receiving complaints from its customers that were either deaf, hard of hearing and had speech disabilities.
In addition to its monetary requirement, Wells Fargo will also now be required to accept relay service calls; remove physical barriers to access at its retail store locations; provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services such as sign language and oral interpreters and qualified readers; and ensure that its ATMs are accessible to those with disabilities.
Wells Fargo will also make a $1 million charitable donation to non-profit organizations that assist veterans of both the war in Afghanistan and Iraq with war-related disabilities, and an additional $55,000 civil penalty to the U.S. Treasury.
“Wells Fargo is committed to serving individuals with disabilities and helping them succeed financially, and we are pleased to resolve this matter” said Wells Fargo spokeswoman Richele Messick in an email. “After receiving feedback from customers and team members, Wells Fargo formed a task force to examine our service offerings. As a result we resumed accepting third-party relay services in January 2010. This decision was made before the start of the DOJ investigation.”
Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said in a statement that the Justice Department was aware of other major financial institutions that were refusing to accept relay service calls and urged them to take Wells Fargo’s example.
A Justice Department spokesperson declined comment on June 2.
“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 Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez in a statement, adding that the Justice Department was aware of other major financial institutions that were refusing to accept relay service calls.