Attorney again claims Wells Fargo branch manager destroyed evidence

tbarton@islandpacket.comSeptember 16, 2013 

The Bluffton branch of Wells Fargo bank, 11 Arley Way.

STAFF PHOTO

A Hilton Head Island attorney has again asked a judge, this time in federal court, to throw out a Wells Fargo defense against a wrongful-termination suit, alleging a branch manager intentionally destroyed evidence.

John Bowen submitted a motion Friday in U.S. District Court that says Wells Fargo branch manager Wendy Baxley willfully destroyed text messages despite being told on multiple occasions not to do so.

The motion in federal court is on behalf of former branch manager Robert Mark Stroud, who was fired and is suing the bank, Wells Fargo district manager Scott Zardenetta and bank investigator Chuck Owens.

Bowen filed a similar motion last month in the Beaufort County Court of Common Pleas on behalf of former Wells Fargo employees Deborah Govan, Erin Caldwell, LaTeshia Barnwell, Zylthia Atkins, Gregory Cherewko, Linda Gillet and Maria Olivia Dulaney.

Baxley remains with Wells Fargo at the bank's Okatie branch. She could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

The case is set for trial in May. Bowen has asked U.S. District Court Judge Sol Blatt Jr. to rule on Stroud's behalf, set a hearing on their request for damages and order Wells Fargo to pay legal costs.

Stroud and the seven other former employees Bowen represents in a companion state court case were among nine fired in July 2012 after Zardenetta accused them of violating company ethics rules. The employees counter that they were fired to cover up his alleged cocaine use and sexual harassment.

The bank has denied the allegations and said it did nothing illegal by terminating the employees, and says Stroud was fired for "documented performance and customer service failures."

An attorney for Wells Fargo and Owens declined comment when reached by phone Monday.

Zardenetta's attorney, Charleston lawyer Benjamin Glass, said: "Unlike plaintiff's counsel, I don't try cases in the newspaper and will respond appropriately both in federal and state court."

According to the suit, trouble at the Bluffton branch at 11 Arley Way began in April 2012 during the Heritage Presented by Boeing golf tournament. Baxley showed Stroud and other employees a text message from Zardenetta that was forwarded to her by boyfriend Brian Natale, a Wells Fargo employee in the Sea Pines branch, the suit says. In the message, Zardenetta referenced drug use and suggested that he and Natale have sex with Baxley, according to the suit.

Bowen states Baxley admitted to deleting the text messages in an Aug. 14 deposition.

Bowen thrice subpoenaed Baxley to turn over her cellphone records and text messages, and sent a letter instructing her to preserve the records.

Baxley has asked the state court quash the subpoena, arguing it is overly broad and seeks irrelevant information that is personal, confidential or otherwise protected, including work records.

Wells Fargo also has objected to Bowen's requests for Zardenetta, Natale and Baxley's cellphone records and text messages on similar grounds.

A hearing on Baxley's motion to quash the state court subpoena is set for 10 a.m. Oct. 8.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.


Documents: Stroud motion and memo

Robert Stroud's motion for sanctions v. Wells Fargo Bank et. all, filed Sept. 13, 2013

Stroud's memo in support of sanctions v. Wells Fargo Bank et. all, filed Sept. 13, 2013

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