Adams v. Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC

Decision Date21 May 2014
Docket NumberCivil Action No. ELH-12-2130
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

Stephanie Adams, plaintiff, sued her former employer, Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC ("WFA"), defendant, asserting thirteen counts arising out of her employment at WFA and her subsequent termination. See Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"), ECF 29.1 In particular, she alleges the following counts: (I) breach of contract; (II) gender discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified as amended at 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq; (III) gender discrimination, in violation of the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act ("MFEPA"), Md. Code (2009 Repl. Vol., 2013 Supp.), § 20-606 of the State Government Article ("S.G."); (IV) disability discrimination, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.; (V) disability discrimination, in violation of the MFEPA, S.G. § 20-606; (VI) unlawful retaliation under Title VII; (VII) unlawful retaliation under the MFEPA, S.G. § 20-606; (VIII) "Employment-Libel or Slander on Form U-5"; (IX) "Libel"; (X) unlawful withholding of wages earned under a WFA employee incentive program called the "4Front Program," in violation of the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law ("MWPCL"), Md.Code (2006 Repl. Vol., 2013 Supp.), § 3-505 of the Labor and Employment Article ("L.E."); (XI) unlawful withholding of wages earned as commission income, in violation of L.E. § 3-505; (XII) fraud in the inducement; and (XIII) intentional infliction of emotional distress.

After discovery, WFA filed a motion for summary judgment ("Motion," ECF 55), supported by a memorandum of law ("Memo," ECF 55-1), and voluminous exhibits. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition ("Opp.," ECF 57), also supported by exhibits, to which WFA replied ("Reply," ECF 58). No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I will deny the Motion as to Count I but grant it as to Counts II-XIII.

Factual Summary2

Adams is a former financial advisor ("FA") at WFA, which is a non-bank affiliate and subsidiary of the bank Wells Fargo & Co. See Affidavit of Joshua P. Ritz ("Ritz Aff.," ECF 55-7) ¶ 4.3 Joshua P. Ritz, the Regional Brokerage Manager for the Greater Maryland Region for WFA, Ritz Aff. ¶ 3, was Adams's supervisor from January 1, 2011, until her employment was terminated on March 28, 2011. Id. ¶ 9.

WFA "provides a wide range of investing advice, investment products, and portfolio management services" to its clients. Id. It employs over 15,000 financial advisors, who work in one of two "sales channels." Id. The sales channel with the "more traditional and familiar brokerage environment" is called the "Private Client Group." Id. 5. The other channel, inwhich plaintiff worked, is known as "Wealth Brokerage Services" ("WBS"). Id. Financial advisors in WBS "seek[] to better leverage [their] bank affiliation" by providing brokerage services to customers at Wells Fargo & Co.'s bank branches. Id. ¶¶ 5-6. Thus, although the financial advisor working in a particular bank branch is not an employee of the bank branch, she "is to be seen as part of the team in that bank branch" and relies on internal referrals for part of her book of business. Deposition of Joshua P. Ritz ("Ritz Dep.," Motion Ex. 2, ECF 55-4) at 40; see also Deposition of Stephanie Adams ("Adams Dep.," Motion Ex. 1).4

FAs are paid on a draw/commission basis. Ritz Aff. ¶ 8. Commissions are calculated as a percentage of the revenue produced by the FA, and the percentage applied (known as the "grid rate") is typically determined by the advisor's level of production. Id. Although FAs are assured of a "minimum salary draw," any FA whose earned commission does not exceed the minimum salary draw carries the deficit into the next month. Id. FAs generate revenue either by collecting transaction fees on sales of financial products to clients or by charging clients an annual fee tied to the value of the client's account. See Deposition of Henry John Rose, a senior vice-president at Wells Fargo Advisors ("Rose Dep.," ECF 55-5) at 6, 9-10. According to Ritz, an FA with more than two years of experience is expected to produce at least $20,000 of revenue for WFA each month. See Ritz Dep. at 48-49; see also Motion Ex. 10, ECF 55-12.

Adams worked as an FA in WFA's Baltimore region. Until approximately October 2008, she worked primarily out of the Perry Hall and Martin Plaza bank branches. See Adams Dep. at 26-27. Adams did not have a dedicated office space at Perry Hall, but she did have one atMartin Plaza. Id. at 30-31.5 Around October 2008, Adams contacted her supervisor, Robert Carpenter, and asked to be transferred from the Martin Plaza branch because of a series of disagreements she had with the Martin Plaza store manager. See Adams Dep. at 37; see Deposition of Robert Carpenter ("Carpenter Dep.," ECF 55-6) at 49-50. Carpenter was a regional manager at WFA, and was Adams's direct supervisor for a portion of the time relevant to this case. See Carpenter Dep. at 7. Adams was reassigned from Martin Plaza to the Overlea bank branch. Id. at 33.

Despite receiving the requested transfer, Adams was unhappy with the Overlea branch, which she claims was in a "very low end area" with "very low potential . . . for any prosperous business." Adams Dep. at 39. Initially, Adams complained because, unlike at Martin Plaza, she did not have a dedicated office space at the Overlea branch. Id. at 49-50.6 However, she was later provided with office space on the second floor of the building. Id. at 49. Adams testified that the office space was "old" and a "disaster" but that, after a few months, "they agreed to put a chair and a desk, [a] nice one, fresh carpet, fresh paint, and fresh blinds in there." Id. at 50. Carpenter estimated that the cost of the renovation of a "separate suite" for Adams was between $20,000 and $25,000. Carpenter Dep. at 51. The office was completed by late 2008, and Adams had this private office until her termination on March 11, 2011. Adams Dep. at 34-35.

Issues with Adams's job performance began to surface in late 2009. On October 12, 2009, Adams received a written warning from Carpenter, which stated, ECF 55-17 (all spelling and grammatical errors in original):

According to the facts, I received several calls over the past few months from Sean Dunphy District Manager and Cristy Kemp Branch Manager of the Perry Hall branch concerning your performance and lack of participation inside the branch this year. As you know, expections for your position requires you to be working with the Perry Hall Store on a daily basis. The lack of participation in call nights, referrals and being readily available for appointments have hampered the branchs performance this year. The branch has called you on many occassions with no resonse for days and is concerned that you are not focused on the job. You have been given initail warnings verbally about these matters with no improvement. This memo serves as a written warning and needs to be adhereded to or you could face disciplianary action up to termination of your employemnet with the company.

Around the same time, Adams informed Carpenter that she has bipolar disorder and attention deficit disorder. See Adams Dep. at 54-56. Adams also spoke with Carpenter multiple times over the next several months about her performance issues. Adams Dep. at 74, 76. But, the performance issues continued: Adams failed to meet the minimum revenue standard of $20,000 in February, March, and April 2010. Motion Ex. 10, ECF 55-12.

On June 4, 2010, Adams filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Motion Ex. 19, ECF 55-21 ("EEOC Charge"). Although Adams checked boxes indicating that she suffered discrimination on the basis of sex, age, disability, and national origin, her description of the alleged discrimination focused only on sex discrimination. In particular, Adams alleged that, when she was transferred from Martin Plaza to Overlea, "Carpenter mandated that [she] turn over ½ of [her] investor customers to that young male advisor who replaced [her]. However, the male advisor that [she] replaced at [Overlea] was not required by Carpenter to leave ½ of his book of investor clients to [her]." EEOC Charge at 1.Further, she alleged that Carpenter "never allocated or assigned any accounts to [her] to manage," but that Carpenter "consistently assigns . . . customer accounts to male financial advisors, many with less experience and seniority." Id. The EEOC charge eventually resulted in a mediated settlement between Adams and WFA, described infra.

On June 16, 2010, Carpenter issued a "Formal Warning for Unsatisfactory Performance" to Adams and placed her on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP"). Motion Ex. 10, ECF 55-12. In the warning, Carpenter noted Adams's repeated failure to meet the minimum revenue standard of $20,000 per month and observed that Adams is "not regularly in the office and [has] failed to follow the activities [she] developed in [her] business plan or with [her] store partners." Id. Carpenter advised that he "need[ed] to see immediate and ongoing improvement" in Adams's revenue production, time spent in the bank branches, efforts to generate business, and fostering of relationships. Id. He also wrote, id.:

This letter serves as notice of a 90 day performance improvement plan. Your average trailing 3 months of production must exceed the minimum production level for three consecutive months. Failure to meet this performance expectation . . . may result in continuance of the corrective action process up to and including termination.
I will review your results and your business plan with you every 30 days and continue work with you to help you meet your production minimum. Although you and I meet to review your plan

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT