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Looking for Patterns of Whistleblower Retaliation at Wells Fargo

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  • Posted on: Apr 17 2017

Did Wells Fargo retaliate against whistleblowers who complained about sales pressure?

In the wake of the sale’s scandal last September that led to the ouster of Wells Fargo & Co.’s CEO John Stumpf, the bank’s Board of Directors has been conducting an independent investigation to determine if retail bank employees who complained about sales pressure or practices were retaliated against.

With an assist by a New York-based law firm, the bank recently released its findings, writing that the investigation did not identify a pattern of retaliation to date, based on what it called a “limited review.” Nonetheless, the investigation is ongoing, and it remains to be seen if the bank has been retaliating against whistleblowers.

However, Wells Fargo was recently ordered by the Department of Labor to reinstate and compensate a former bank manager in the wealth management group who was terminated after complaining about fraudulent conduct, albeit that incident is unrelated to the retail bank scandal.

The Whistleblower Investigation

The bank’s counsel said that its independent review consisted of five steps, starting with creating a spreadsheet of 115 potential whistleblower cases from 2011 to 2016. Ten cases were gleaned from that list from the 2011-2103 period since they were connected to sales practice misconduct. A review of those cases did not reveal evidence of “purposeful” retaliation.

Next, Wells Fargo identified 11 former employees to interview based on these cases. Of the three who agreed to be interviewed, and a review of related documents, no evidence of retaliation was found. Then, the law firm analyzed the bank’s EthicsLine and whistleblower reports dating back to 2011. Nine incidents of “potential” retaliation were found, and those reviews are continuing.

A further review was also conducted of files regarding 885 employees who called the EthicsLine between 2011 and 2016. These employees were reportedly subjected to “corrective action” within 12 months of their calls or claimed in media reports that Wells Fargo had retaliated against them for complaining about sales practices. Of those files, eight “raised concerns” and are being independently reviewed in addition to 10 other files of employees who were among the 5,367 terminated in the 2016 settlements. Finally, the law firm is reviewing a handful of whistleblower files connected to complaints filed by the bank’s shareholders.

The Takeaway

Although the investigation has yet to identify a pattern of retaliation, Wells Fargo continues to face scrutiny over the sales practice scandal that centered on the creation of approximately 2 million bogus accounts that were set up in customers’ names without their knowledge or permission. In fact, Congressional lawmakers have been calling on the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether the bank has engaged in prohibited retaliatory practices.

In the meantime, it is important to note that whistleblowers are protected against retaliation under federal law. For this reason, if you believe you were retaliated against for blowing the whistle, you should engage the services of an experienced attorney.

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