Washington, DC — The United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) has reached a $17 millionagreement with Wells Fargo Bank that will settle Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaints concerning consumers with hearing loss and other disabilities who use ATM machines and other bank services.

The settlement will reportedy 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 the bank’s telephone and Web site services.

The agreement resolves numerous ADA complaints filed by individuals who are deaf, or have hearing loss or speech disabilities, and 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 said that it started addressing these customers’ concerns before the USDOJ’s investigation began. Once the USDOJ opened an investigation, Wells Fargo worked cooperatively to achieve a comprehensive settlement addressing all ADA issues in its retail banking and financial services.

Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in the press statement, “Wells Fargo has shown that it is committed to equal access and effective communication with its customers who have disabilities. The USDOJ 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.”

Wells Fargo will pay up to $17 million to compensate individuals harmed by certain violations of Title III of the ADA. USDOJ 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 e-mail to [email protected] 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 Web site, and distribute the policy to current and new employees and contractors.
  • Accept calls made through a relay service operator by customers who are deaf, have hearing loss, 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 Web sites 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.

Under the ADA, 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 the settlement and fact sheet on this announcement, visit www.ada.gov/wells_fargo

SOURCE: United States Department of Justice