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Regulation and Compliance > Federal Regulation > DOL

DOL Orders Wells Fargo to Pay $22M Over Whistleblower Retaliation

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What You Need to Know

  • The manager, who was fired in 2019, expressed concerns about falsifying customer information, price fixing and interest rate collusion.
  • The employee filed a complaint with OSHA, alleging retaliation under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

The Labor Department on Thursday ordered Wells Fargo to pay $22 million in back wages and compensatory damages for violating whistleblower protection rules by improperly terminating a former senior manager.

Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found Wells Fargo violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act when it terminated a Chicago area-based senior manager in the company’s commercial banking segment.

The San Francisco-based bank was ordered to pay the employee more than $22 million, which includes back wages, interest, lost bonuses and benefits, front pay and compensatory damages.

The senior manager had repeatedly voiced concerns to area managers and the corporate ethics line regarding conduct that violated relevant financial laws, including wire fraud, according to Labor.

The manager — who was fired in 2019 — “expressed concerns that they were directed to falsify customer information and alleged that management was engaged in price fixing and interest rate collusion through exclusive dealing,” Labor said.

Wells Fargo initially failed to provide a reason for terminating the manager, but later stated the manager was terminated as part of a restructuring process.

Investigators, however, “found the removal was not consistent with Wells Fargo’s treatment of other managers removed under the initiative,” Labor said.

The employee filed a complaint with OSHA, alleging retaliation under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

“The evidence demonstrates Wells Fargo took retaliatory action against this senior manager for repeatedly expressing concerns about financial management they believed violated federal laws,” said Doug Parker, assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, in a statement.

“The Sarbanes-Oxley Act protects employees from retaliation in these very circumstances and the Department of Labor will not tolerate employers who violate the law and illegally terminate workers that exercise their rights under the law,” Parker added.

Wells Fargo said Wednesday in a statement shared with ThinkAdvisor: “We disagree with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s findings, which were not based on an evidentiary hearing. We intend to appeal to an administrative law judge. Wells Fargo has zero tolerance for acts of retaliation, and employees are encouraged to report concerns which will be promptly and thoroughly investigated.”

Both parties have 30 days from the receipt of OSHA’s findings to file objections and request a hearing before an administrative law judge.


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