Former branch manager sues Wells Fargo

cconley@islandpacket.comNovember 26, 2012 

The former manager of the Bluffton Wells Fargo branch is suing the bank, alleging his firing was payback for reporting a superior's cocaine use and sexual harassment.

Mark Stroud was among nine branch employees fired in July by the same bank executive, Scott Zardenetta, he reported to the bank's human resources department for violating the company's code of ethics, the lawsuit says.

The suit says he followed procedures common at other Wells Fargo branches and was wrongfully terminated in violation of the company's policies.

"The aforesaid termination was conducted in retaliation for the complaint made to HR by Stroud concerning Scott's conduct and sexual harassment of certain Wells Fargo employees," the lawsuit alleges.

Seven of the nine employees fired by the bank filed a lawsuit last month that made similar allegations. Both cases are being handled by John Bowen of the Hilton Head Island firm Laughlin & Bowen.

Stroud filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August and received a "notice of right to sue" from that agency this month. His lawsuit was filed Nov. 19. It seeks actual lost wages, future lost wages and damages, including compensation for emotional pain and injury.

Attempts Monday to reach Stroud for comment were unsuccessful.

Wells Fargo, district manager Scott Zardenetta and investigator Mark Owens are named as defendants in both lawsuits.

Wells Fargo has not yet received a copy of the suit, and a company spokesman declined to comment.

According to the lawsuit, Stroud heard allegations about Zardenetta using drugs and having "inappropriate sexual relations" with employees at the Sea Pines branch on Hilton Head in early 2012 from Wendy Baxley, who worked at the Bluffton branch at 11 Arley Way.

Stroud says he urged her to report her claims to human resources, but she never did. The suit says Baxley and her boyfriend became friends with Zardenetta, and the three started going to "gentlemen's clubs" until early hours in the morning.

The lawsuit also alleges that in April, during the Heritage golf tournament, Baxley showed Stroud and other Bluffton branch employees a text message from Zardenetta that had been forwarded to her. In the message, Zardenetta suggested that he and Baxley's boyfriend, an employee of the Wells Fargo branch in Sea Pines, have sex with her, the suit says.

Zardenetta also suggested that Baxley's boyfriend bring another female employee from the Sea Pines branch to the hotel for sex, according to the suit.

Baxley has been promoted and now manages Wells Fargo's Okatie branch. Attempts Monday to reach her for comment were unsuccessful. Zardenetta is currently out on medical leave, according to the suit. He could not be reached for comment.

Stroud reported the incident to Wells Fargo's human resources department and passed along the names of those involved. Although he expected confidentiality, he says the department told Zardenetta who filed the complaint.

Stroud was placed on administrative leave on July 12 and fired by Zardenetta the next day.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

Related content:

Former employees sue Wells Fargo, alleging misconduct at Bluffton bank branch, Oct. 26, 2010

New allegations emerge in Bluffton Wells Fargo firings, Aug. 23, 2012

Fired Bluffton Wells Fargo employees file complaint, allege hostile work environment at bank, Aug. 20, 2012

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