In the largest-ever individual award by the OSHA Whistleblower Protection Program, OSHA announced today that it had ordered Wells Fargo to reinstate and compensate a former bank manager “who lost his job after reporting suspected fraudulent behavior to superiors and a bank ethics hotline.” The order was announced in a press release issued today. (Yes, a press release!)
The manager, who had previously received positive job performance appraisals, was abruptly dismissed from his position at a Wells Fargo branch in the Los Angeles area after he reported separate incidents of suspected bank, mail and wire fraud by two bankers under his supervision. He was told he had 90 days to find a new position at Wells Fargo, and when he was unsuccessful, he was terminated. He has been unable to find work in banking since his termination in 2010.
An OSHA investigation concluded that the former manager’s whistleblower activity, which is protected under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, was at least a contributing factor in his termination. OSHA does not release names of whistleblower complainants.
All together, back pay, compensatory damages, and attorneys’ fees are calculated at about $5.4 million . Wells Fargo also must post a notice informing all employees of their whistleblower protections under Sarbanes-Oxley, and clear the employee’s personnel file.
While the OSHA Press release didn’t go into the details, the case was decided 6 months after a gigantic “cross-selling” scandal rocked the bank, resulting in a $100 million fine against the company levied by the Consumer Financial Protection Board. The scandal revolved around Wells Fargo employees being pressured into fraudulently opening over two million new bank accounts for customers who had not authorized them. Fifty-three hundred Wells Fargo employees were fired by the company and many filed whistleblower cases with OSHA after complaining that they had been fired for reporting the fraud.
If you want to jog your memory about the scandal, check out Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) grilling Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf and asking him to step down.
Wells Fargo responded to the charges by stating:
“We are aware of OSHA’s preliminary order and take seriously the concerns of current and former team members,” Vince Scanlon, a Wells Fargo spokesperson, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “To date there has been no hearing on the merits in this case, and we will be requesting a full hearing of the matter,” Scanlon asserted.
OSHA enforces whistleblower laws under 22 different statutes. In addition to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the agency enforces laws covering food safety, the environment, nuclear power, financial services, rail safety, trucking, air safety and many others. More information on OSHA’s program can be found here.