The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Monday ordered Wells Fargo to pay the largest whistleblower award to a single individual in the agency’s history, providing a fresh stain to the San Francisco-based bank.
OSHA, part of the U.S. Department of Labor, also said Wells Fargo must compensate and immediately rehire the former manager, who worked in the Los Angeles area and was terminated in 2010. According to the agency, Wells Fargo retaliated against the employee after he reported separate incidents of suspected bank, mail and wire fraud by two bankers under his supervision.
Wells is also being ordered to provide back pay, compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees totaling about $5.4 million. OSHA, which does not disclose whistleblowers’ names, said the employee has been unable to find work in banking since his termination.
In an interview Monday, Barbara Goto, OSHA regional administrator based in San Francisco, told the Observer the behavior the employee reported is not connected to Wells Fargo’s sales scandal that erupted in September. In that matter, Wells Fargo employees opened accounts customers did not authorize in order to meet aggressive sales goals.
Goto said OSHA received the whistleblower’s complaint in early 2011, but she declined to provide further details about the nature of the reported behavior.
In a news release, OSHA said the employee had also taken his complaints to Wells Fargo’s ethics hotline and that his reporting was least a contributing factor in his termination. After reporting the incidents, the employee was “abruptly dismissed” from his position, OSHA said. The employee was told he had 90 days to find a new position at Wells, and was terminated after being unable to do so, according to the agency.
Wells Fargo said Monday the manager worked in the bank’s wealth management group, but it declined to provide further details. In a statement, Wells Fargo spokesman Vince Scanlon said Wells disagrees with OSHA’s findings and plans to appeal.
“We take seriously the concerns of current and former team members,” Scanlon said. “This decision is a preliminary order and to date there has been no hearing on the merits of this case.”
OSHA said Monday that Wells Fargo must clear the employee’s personnel file and post a notice informing all employees of their whistleblower protections under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
According to Goto, the OSHA regional administrator, Monday’s award tops 2013’s $1.9 million to the former chief financial officer of California-based Clean Diesel Technologies. Goto said OSHA’s largest award to a group of whistleblowers was 2009’s $7.9 million to nine former employees of Southern Air, which at the time was headquartered in Connecticut.
Wells Fargo employs about 24,100 in the Charlotte metro area, its largest employment hub.