Illustration for article titled Banking While Black: JPMorgan Chase Says It Is ‘Sickened’ by Racism Exposed at an Arizona Bank
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JPMorgan Chase is calling for staff across the bank to come forward with experiences and concerns related to racism and discrimination in the wake of a New York Times story reporting on racial bias in the company.

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The article, published Wednesday, features recordings of employees at an Arizona Chase bank making discriminatory remarks about and to potential clients. In one instance, a Chase manager told a black employee not to help a black woman who recently received a $372,000 wrongful death settlement after her son died. The employee, Ricardo Peters, wanted to help her invest the money.

“You’ve got somebody who’s coming from Section 8, never had a nickel to spend, and now she’s got $400,000,” Peters’ boss, Frank Venniro, told him. “What do you think’s going to happen with that money? It’s gone.”

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When Peters tried to make the case for her, Venniro rebuffed him.

“This is not money she respects,” he responded. “She didn’t earn it.”

In another case, former NFL player Jimmy Kennedy attempted to become a “private client” with the bank, an elite classification that comes with a fair number of perks. Kennedy had earned $13 million over the course of his football career, but he wasn’t given that status. When he asked why a black banker he spoke to suggested his appearance would intimidate other bank employees.

From the Times:

“They’re not going to say this, but I don’t have the same level of intimidation that they have—you know what I’m saying?—not only being a former athlete but also being two black men,” [Charles] Belton said. Referring to Mr. Venniro, he added, “You sit in front of him, you’re like three times his size—you feel what I’m saying?—he already probably has his perception of how these interactions could go.”

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JPMorgan Chase co-president Gordon Smith addressed the article on a company call Wednesday, just hours after the piece went live, reports the Financial Times:

“All of us feel absolutely sickened—not about the article, but about what happened at one of our branches in Arizona,” Mr. Smith said on the call. He added that Chase takes “such great pride in diversity and inclusion at the company” and so “this strikes right at the heart of who we are, and what we believe in, and what this company is all about.”

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The bank asked its employees to write to a special inbox with experiences or concerns they have around discrimination, as well as submit ideas for how they could improve the workplace at Chase.

“We don’t know what we’ll do next yet, but want to start by listening,” a spokesperson for the company told the FT. Venniro was put on leave while the story was being reported, then resigned late last week, the Times reports.

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The allegations of racism shouldn’t have come as a shock to the bank. The Times story comes a little more than a year after JPMorgan Chase paid out a major settlement in a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by black current and former employees. About $20 million of that went directly to the plaintiffs, who alleged discrimination at the company that was “uniform and national in scope,” reports Bloomberg. Another $4.5 million was earmarked for a fund that would improve recruitment, as well as provide bias training and professional development for bank employees.

Staff writer, The Root.

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