US Department of Labor orders Wells Fargo to pay more than $22M for retaliating against executive that alleged financial misconduct
CHICAGO – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found Wells Fargo violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for improperly terminating 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 findings follow an investigation by OSHA’s Chicago Regional Office that was initiated after receiving a complaint from the employee.
OSHA found Wells Fargo violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act when it terminated the senior manager who had repeatedly voiced concerns to area managers and the corporate ethics line regarding conduct they believed violated relevant financial laws, including wire fraud. The manager 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.
Even though the manager believed the conduct was illegal based on company-required training, they were terminated in 2019. After initially failing to provide a reason for the termination, Wells Fargo later alleged the manager was terminated as part of a restructuring process. However, investigators found the removal was not consistent with Wells Fargo’s treatment of other managers removed under the initiative. 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 Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “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.”
Both parties have 30 days from the receipt of OSHA’s findings to file objections and request a hearing before an administrative law judge.
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act and more than 20 whistleblower statutes. These statutes protect employees from retaliation for reporting violations of workplace safety and health, aviation safety, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, securities, tax, criminal antitrust, and anti-money laundering laws; as well as for engaging in other related protected activities.