On April 3, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it has ordered Wells Fargo to reinstate and compensate a whistleblower who was terminated after reporting suspected fraudulent acts in 2010.
The whistleblower, whose identity has not been released, is reported to have been a Los Angeles-based bank manager in Wells Fargo’s wealth management division. In 2010, the manager reported two suspected incidents of bank, mail, and wire fraud by two bankers working under his supervision. After he reported the suspected fraud to his superiors and to an ethics hotline, Wells Fargo informed the manager that he had 90 days to find a new position within the company. The manager was unable to find another job at Wells Fargo and was consequently terminated. Since 2010, the whistleblower has been unable to find a position in the banking industry.
The whistleblower submitted a complaint to OSHA in 2011. After a lengthy investigation, OSHA concluded that Wells Fargo had violated the whistleblower protection provision of the Sarbanes Oxley Act. OSHA ordered that Wells Fargo reinstate the whistleblower into a similar position and that Wells Fargo pay the whistleblower $5.4 million dollars, OSHA’s largest-ever whistleblower award to an individual to date.
The announcement of the whistleblower award comes at a difficult time for Wells Fargo, which was recently fined $185 million by the Consumer Finance Protection Board in connection with a scandal in which Wells Fargo employees were creating fake accounts to meet sales targets. The $5.4 million OSHA award is not directly related to the scandal, which involved a different sector of Wells Fargo’s business.
The $5.4 million award, which is both the largest OSHA award ordered for a Sarbanes Oxley whistleblower and the first award announced by OSHA during the Trump administration, represents a generally encouraging development for financial whistleblowers because it demonstrates OSHA’s ongoing commitment to enforcing the protections afforded to whistleblowers in the financial industry.