Sometimes the Good Guys Win

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ordered Wells Fargo, the third largest U.S. bank, to pay a former employee $5.4 million who was fired after he blew the whistle on supervisors regarding fraudulent behavior by the bank. According to the ruling, Wells Fargo must also reinstate a similar position previously held by the employee.

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NPR reports (Apr. 4), “The manager had previously gotten positive job performance ratings — but he was dismissed shortly after reporting two bankers under his supervision for what he suspected to be bank, mail and wire fraud.

“ ‘He has been unable to find work in banking since his termination in 2010,’ OSHA said in its statement about the order.”

“While Wells Fargo can appeal both parts of OSHA’s order, a spokesman for the federal agency notes that the manager’s reinstatement ‘is not stayed by an objection to the order.’ ”

“The $5.4 million,” The New York Times writes (Apr. 3), “intended to cover back pay, compensatory damages and legal fees, is the largest individual award ever ordered through OSHA’s whistle-blower protection program, according to Barbara Goto, the agency’s regional administrator in San Francisco.

“Wells Fargo, which is based in San Francisco, has been in turmoil since admitting that its employees, under pressure to meet aggressive sales goals, opened as many as two million fraudulent accounts. The bank fired at least 5,300 employees who were involved and paid $185 million to settle lawsuits brought by two federal regulators and the Los Angeles city attorney.

“The bank has drawn heavy criticism for not heeding what appear to have been years of internal warnings about the problem. Numerous former Wells Fargo employees have said that they were penalized or fired after trying to raise the alarm internally through reports to their bosses, the company’s ethics hotline, and, in some cases, directly to the bank’s former chief executive, John G. Stumpf.

“Mr. Stumpf retired under pressure in October. His successor, Timothy J. Sloan, acknowledged in January that the bank may have retaliated against some of its former employees.”

“The manager’s case fell under OSHA’s jurisdiction,” NPR said, “because it involves whistleblower provisions in the Sarbanes-Oxley law that protects employees who report violations of consumer, financial and other laws. After reporting problems to both his superiors and a banking ethics hotline, the manager was given 90 days to find a new job in the company. He was fired after not being able to do that.”

In a statement, Wells Fargo’s Vince Scanlon said, “This decision is a preliminary order and to date there has been no hearing on the merits of this case. We disagree with the findings and will be requesting a full hearing of the matter.”

It’s not easy being a whistle-blower. The stress and strain on friends and family are enormous. But… sometimes the good guys win.

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