The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), part of the Labor Department, has ordered Wells Fargo to reinstate a branch manager allegedly fired after she reported what she believed to be fraudulent activity at her branch.
The OSHA ruling orders the bank to rehire the unnamed executive with back pay and damages, totaling $577,000.
In a statement to Reuters, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman said the bank disagrees with the findings and will request a full hearing on the matter. She noted that the OSHA order is preliminary and that no hearing on the merits of the case has been held.
Unauthorized accounts scandal
This particular case goes back to 2011, but OSHA says it is connected to last year's revelations that Wells Fargo opened credit card and checking accounts in customers' names without their consent.
According to OSHA, the Wells Fargo branch manager in question raised concerns with her superiors, alleging that the bank's "private bankers" were opening accounts for customers without their permission.
The manager’s disclosures were found to be protected under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010. The agency suggests the manager's reports were at least a contributing factor in her firing.
“No banking industry employee should fear retaliation for raising concerns about fraud and practices that violate consumer financial protections,” said Barbara Goto, OSHA regional administrator in San Francisco. “The U.S. Department of Labor will fully and fairly enforce the whistleblower protection laws under its jurisdiction.”
Warren weighs in
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a frequent critic of banks in general and Wells Fargo in particular, was quick to react to the order. After last year's revelations of the unauthorized accounts, she pressed the Labor Department to investigate.
"Whistleblowers who come forward to call out abusive, predatory, and illegal practices in their workplaces should be applauded, not subjected to retaliation," Warren said.
Warren also said she was pleased to see the Department of Labor investigation is continuing under the Trump Administration.
While Wells Fargo has signaled its intention to appeal, OSHA says an appeal does not stay the preliminary reinstatement order.
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