Amid a flurry of lawsuits and government probes spinning out from Wells Fargo & Co.’s fake-accounts scandal, a group of California plaintiffs lawyers teamed up this week to bring a new employment suit, looking to test out an expanded set of legal theories.
Los Angeles-based lawyer Jonathan Delshad joined forces with a trio of other plaintiffs firms in California—Schonbrun Seplow Harris & Hoffman of Venice, McCracken Stemerman & Holsberry of San Francisco and Pessah Law Group of Los Angeles—to bring a proposed class action on behalf of former Wells Fargo employees.
The new suit, filed Dec. 27 in Oakland federal court, follows an earlier class action complaint in California state court that Delshad brought in September. Both are grounded in similar allegations that Wells Fargo set unreasonably aggressive sales goals for low-level employees and that, in turn, employees often wound up using fake customer contact information to open new accounts and meet sales quotas.
Delshad and his co-counsel represent employees who say they were punished, passed over for promotions or fired when they refused to “play ball” with alleged sales misconduct. Like Delshad’s earlier suit, the new complaint asserts claims for wrongful termination and unlawful business practices. But the newer complaint adds nine additional named plaintiffs and a host of other legal claims, including alleged violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
According to Delshad, the new complaint encompasses a litany of alleged wrongdoing that he’s heard about from “literally thousands of former employees” who have called his offices since he filed his first case in September. He said this week’s complaint is intended to consolidate claims from the state court case and a federal suit he brought after that, while also adding new RICO and emotional-distress claims.
“We are really zeroing in all of the allegations against Wells Fargo from different angles,” Delshad said in an email on Thursday. “We now have in our hands documents, emails and other evidence of our allegations. With all this new information, we were able to put together a complaint that is tighter and stronger.”
Another major difference from Delshad’s earlier effort: He has backup. In all, this week’s suit lists 11 plaintiffs lawyers across four firms. Delshad said he assembled the team by reaching out to a few of the “best and brightest” class action and trial lawyers he knew.
“I went through a rigorous process of interviewing firms to partner up with. For me, it was critical that the firms have a very comprehensive understanding of not only class action litigation, but specifically in the employment law context,” Delshad said. “It was also very important for me to make sure we all worked together well and we all ultimately have the same goals in mind for the employees.”
He described the lawyers from Schonbrun Seplow and McCracken Stemerman as his “top picks” for co-counsel, adding that Maurice Pessah of Pessah Law Group was a personal friend and a “diligent, hardworking attorney with great ideas.”
As of Thursday, no defense counsel has entered an appearance for Wells Fargo in court. But as The Recorder previously reported, it’s likely that the new coalition of plaintiffs lawyers will face lawyers from Munger, Tolles & Olson in connection with the employment claims.
Wells Fargo spokesman Ancel Martinez said Thursday that the company has no specific response to the Dec. 27 complaint, but he provided a statement that Wells Fargo has previously made in connection to similar suits.
“We have zero tolerance for retaliation against team members and we have a firm non-retaliation policy,” the statement said. “Our non-retaliation policy makes it clear that no team member may be retaliated against for providing information about suspected unethical or illegal activities. We aspire to foster a supportive and engaging work environment for team members.”
Contact Scott Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sflaherty18.
Copyright The Recorder. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.