Wells Fargo has agreed to pay $16 million in compensation to customers with hearing and speech problems it discriminated against by refusing to do business over the phone using a telecommunications relay service.
The bank has reached a settlement with the Justice Department that also includes a $55,000 civic penalty and the payment of $1 million to non-profits assisting Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with disabilities.
The settlement, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), resolves "numerous" complaints against Wells Fargo filed by people who are deaf, are hard of hearing or have speech disabilities.
During 2009 the bank refused to accept "relay" calls, where users make the call through an operator service, using keyboards to control their phones. Instead, worried about potential fraud, Wells Fargo directed customers to call a number for the deaf and leave a message but it failed to get back to users, says the DoJ.
The bank began making changes before the government investigation and has been cooperating to improve its services, says a statement. As well as now accepting relay calls, it is also carrying out work on its branches, ATMs and online services to ensure easy access for disabled customers.
Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general, civil rights division, says: "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."
However, Perez says other major banks are refusing to let customers use relay services and is warning them they must follow Wells Fargo's lead and make changes.