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Wells Fargo bond saleswoman sues over 'unapologetically sexist' workplace

FILE PHOTO: A Wells Fargo logo

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - Wells Fargo was accused of sex discrimination in a lawsuit by a bond saleswoman who said the fourth-largest U.S. bank denied pay and promotions available to men and tolerated an "unapologetically sexist" workplace.

The complaint filed on Friday in federal court in Chicago by Michal Leavitt is the latest in a long line of lawsuits accusing big U.S. banks of bias against women.

Leavitt said Wells Fargo's practice of steering larger accounts toward men in its financial institutions group cost her up to one-third of her potential pay, and forced her to wait nine years for a promotion to director from vice president.

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She said she expressed frustration at missing out on large accounts, but was told her mostly male group thought of her as a mere "second income" for her husband.

Leavitt also said male managers routinely had inappropriate sexual relations with female subordinates, and men often made degrading jokes about women, including over their appearances and how their wives were only "spending their husbands' money."

"The financial institutions group is a self-acknowledged 'boys club' where locker room talk on the sales floor is de rigueur," creating an "unapologetically sexist working environment," Leavitt said.

Wells Fargo had no immediate comment.

Leavitt joined the San Francisco-based bank in 2013 from Bear Stearns. The Illinois resident is seeking unspecified damages and changes in how Wells Fargo assigns accounts.

Last November, Citigroup was sued by managing director Ardith Lindsey, who said the third-largest U.S. bank tolerated a "notoriously hostile" work culture where a former top equities banker subjected her to sexual harassment and death threats.

And last May, Goldman Sachs agreed to pay $215 million to settle a class action alleging widespread bias against women in pay and promotions.

Wells Fargo has separately spent years trying to rebound from a series of scandals for mistreating customers.

These scandals led to billions of dollars in fines, the toppling of two chief executives, and a still-existing Federal Reserve cap on assets that limits the bank's growth.

The case is Leavitt v Wells Fargo Securities LLC, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, No. 24-03140.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)