Wells Fargo Whistle-Blowers Wait for Justice

Among the casualties in the Wells Fargo Bank scandal are many employees who were allegedly bullied and fired for refusing to engage in unethical practices.

What has happened to them since the news faded from the headlines points up a new scandal – the lack of any real protection for workers who refuse to engage in illegal acts or who participate in whistle-blowing.

Many of the Wells Fargo ex-workers’ complaints have been pending with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  for years without action.

Earlier this year, Wells Fargo paid $190 million in fines to federal and state authorities after acknowledging that its employees covertly opened as many as two million checking and credit card accounts without the customers’ authorization.  The bank, which fired 5,300 employees for improper sales tactics over a five-year period, finally changed its practice of requiring workers to meet unrealistic sales goals o  Jan. 1.

Many of the fired workers claim they were terminated because they refused to engage in or complained about Wells Fargo’s unethical practices. At least a dozen current and former Wells Fargo workers filed complaints with OSHA; some date back more than a decade.

OSHA finally took some action last month when it ordered Wells Fargo to rehire one whistle-blower, a wealth manager who was not named but who was fired in 2010 after he reported suspected fraud via Wells Fargo’s ethics hotline. OSHA ordered Wells Fargo to pay the ex-manager $5.4 million in back pay, damages and attorneys’ fees.  Wells Fargo has announced it will fight the ruling. Meanwhile, the whistle-blower. who filed his OSHA complaint in 2011, said he has been unable to find a new job since he was fired.

OSHA HAS BEEN CRITICIZED FOR NOT MOVING FAST ENOUGH TO INVESTIGATE COMPLAINTS FILED BY CURRENT AND FORMER WELLS FARGO EMPLOYEES WHO SAY THEY WERE FIRED BECAUSE THEY REFUSED TO ENGAGE IN OR COMPLAINED ABOUT UNETHICAL BEHAVIORS.

A second whistle-blower, retail banker Claudia Ponce de Leon, complained  that she was fired in 2011 about three weeks after calling Wells Fargo’s ethics line to report that bankers under her supervision in Southern California were opening client accounts without permission to meet sales goals.  Her lawyer was quoted  by Reuters last year as stating that she had not yet been interviewed by OSHA.

Meanwhile, some ex-employees of Wells Fargo have turned to the courts.

Melinda Bini, a former manager of Wells Fargo’s Highland Park branch  in New Jersey,  filed a state court lawsuit last month stating she was fired for refusing to manipulate accounts and sell products that weren’t in the customers’ best interests. A former assistant vice-president, she is seeking her job back and damages.

In a sharp contrast to the plight of these whistle-blowers, all 15 members of the Wells Fargo’s board of directors who were nominated for new terms were retained in April, and a stockholder proposal calling for a new report on the root causes of the scandal  failed to receive majority support.

Reuters reported that  the Office of the Comptroller of the Currently, the lead regulator for banks, last month stripped the senior most bank examiner for Wells Fargo, Bradley Linskens, of his supervisory powers.

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