Prudential fires broker accused of making racist comments in California restaurant

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Prudential Securities has terminated a broker who was recently accused of making racist comments towards two patrons in a California restaurant.

Sophia Chang, co-founder of a women’s apparel company, claims in a social media post that the man told her to “go back to Wuhan,” a reference to the Chinese city believed to be the origination point of the coronavirus pandemic, while Chang was dining with her sister at a restaurant in Newport Beach. After Chang confronted him, she says he responded with “I don’t speak Chinese,” according to a video she posted to Instagram.

The alleged comments are not captured in the video. Chang, who identifies as Korean-American and lives in Los Angeles according to her social media profiles, has not responded to a request for comment.

Since posting on Sept. 13, Chang’s video has been viewed 890,000 times. In a follow-up post, Chang claims the man was James Hilbrant, an employee of Prudential Financial.

Prudential confirmed Hilbrant was a financial representative of the firm and that it investigated the alleged incident.

“After thoroughly investigating the incident in Newport Beach, we have made the decision to end our relationship with the financial representative involved,” the firm said in a statement. The firm also posted about the incident on its Twitter page.

According to BrokerCheck, Hilbrant had been registered with Pruco Securities, a brokerage firm under the Prudential umbrella, since July 7. His registration ended on September 24.

Hilbrant could not be reached for comment. A LinkedIn profile for Hilbrant is no longer available.

The incident comes as the financial services industry is trying to improve the racial and gender diversity of its workforce and clients. Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf recently created a social media firestorm for saying that there isn’t enough minority talent to satisfy diversity goals.

Will backlash over Scharf's remarks hinder Wells Fargo’s diversity push?
The company has been experimenting with ways to recruit more women and minorities, including a program to hire professionals who had left banking.

Hilbrant is no longer welcome at the Bluewater Grill, according to a post on the restaurant’s Instagram feed.

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