Bank exec who reportedly referred to female colleagues as "girls" to retire

A Wells Fargo executive who reportedly referred to women bank employees as "girls" or told them to put their "big girl panties on" will step down next year.

Without addressing claims made against him, Wells Fargo confirmed that private bank head Jay Welker would retire effective March 31. His coming retirement was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which cited an internal memo.

A complaint against Welker was part of a larger internal investigation into allegations of discrimination by female executives in Wells Fargo's wealth management unit, the newspaper said. The bank spent months interviewing dozens of women after complaints were made of failure to promote and systemic belittling of female executives, according to the Journal.

Jon Weiss, head of Wealth and Investment Management at Wells Fargo, informed some managers in a call last week that "there is unequivocally no gender bias" in the unit, the newspaper reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Welker reported to Weiss, the Journal noted.

Reached for comment by CBS MoneyWatch, Wells Fargo defended its process, but did not directly address specific allegations.

"We take seriously any allegation raised by a team member, or against a team member. We ensure that concerns raised are thoroughly and objectively investigated, while taking measures to protect confidentiality. Once an investigation is complete we are committed to taking any appropriate action," a spokesperson for the bank stated in an email. 

The bank is "committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our business," the spokesperson added.

Wells Fargo (WFC) continues to contend with the aftermath of a scandal over its sales tactics that erupted in 2016, leading to the ouster of John Stumpf as its CEO and costing the bank $185 million in fines. Wells Fargo in August disclosed a "calculation error" in its mortgage modification underwriting tool that resulted in 545 homeowners being foreclosed on. 

The bank also was featured recently in research from Stanford University finance professor Amit Seru and two co-authors who found that men in the financial industry are more than twice as likely to engage in misconduct than women are, yet women are 20 percent more likely to be fired for infractions. The researchers said Wells Fargo had the largest discrepancy among financial institutions studied, disciplining women advisers at a much higher rate than male advisers. The bank was followed by A.G. Edwards & Sons and SunTrust Investment Services.