The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has ordered Wells Fargo to reinstate and compensate an unnamed, former bank manager who was retaliated against and terminated in 2010 after reporting suspected fraudulent behavior to his superiors as well as through a bank ethics hotline.
The whistleblower reported separate incidents of suspected bank, mail, and wire fraud by bankers under his supervision in relation to Wells Fargo’s illegal sales practices going back as far as 2005. As many as 2 million checking and credit card accounts were opened under customers’ names without their permission, a violation for which Wells Fargo paid $185 million as a settlement in September 2016.
Four months after reporting the suspected fraud, Wells Fargo gave the whistleblower 90 days to find another position within the company. Being unable to find a different position, the whistleblower was terminated despite previous positive performance reviews from his branch in Los Angeles. He has since been unable to find work in banking.
OSHA conducted an investigation, concluding that the whistleblower activity, protected under the Sarbanes- Oxley Act (SOX) of 2002 as integral to the protection of consumers and investors who rely on employee information to guarantee honest business practices, was at least a contributing factor in the decision to dismiss the whistleblower. OSHA has ordered Wells Fargo to not only reinstate the whistleblower and clear his personnel file, but also to fully compensate him for his lost earnings while he was out of the banking industry. These damages of back pay, compensatory damages, and attorneys’ fees were calculated at $5.4 million making it OSHA’s largest-ever individual whistleblower award. The court has also ordered Wells Fargo to post a notice to all employees, informing them of whistleblower protections under SOX.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act prohibits a publicly traded company, or any contractor or agent of such company, from retaliation against an employee who blows-the-whistle on what she reasonably believes to be a violation of statutes prohibiting mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, securities fraud, any rule or regulation of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), or any provision of Federal law relating to fraud against shareholders. Successful whistleblowers are entitled to recover their attorneys’ fees and costs under SOX.
Although Wells Fargo intends to appeal the order before the Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ), the whistleblower must still be reinstated based on the preliminary reinstatement order.