DOL Orders Wells Fargo to Pay $22 Million for Firing Whistleblower

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

September 13, 2022

The US Department of Labor (DOL) has ordered Wells Fargo to pay $22 million to a fired senior manager after finding the company retaliated in response to the executive's claims of financial misconduct.

Wells Fargo violated the Sarbanes-Oxley Act's whistleblower protection provisions by improperly terminating the Chicago-area based senior manager, the DOL's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found following an investigation.

The agency noted that the manager repeatedly voiced concerns to area managers and the corporate ethics line about alleged unlawful conduct, including price fixing and wire fraud. The manager also complained about being directed to falsify customer information.

Wells Fargo had claimed that it terminated the manager as part of a normal restructuring process. However, DOL investigators found the termination was inconsistent with the company's treatment of other managers who were removed under this process.

"The Sarbanes-Oxley Act protects employees from retaliation in these very circumstances," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker in a statement. "The Department of Labor will not tolerate employers who violate the law and illegally terminate workers that exercise their rights."

This penalty reflects an overall increase in whistleblower awards in recent years, and reminds employers about the importance of taking steps to ensure compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley, including:

  • Establishing hotlines for employees to report concerns about improper conduct;
  • Developing a code of conduct; and
  • Investigating alleged violations.

Wells Fargo has 30 days from its receipt of OSHA's findings to file objections and request a hearing before an administrative law judge to challenge the agency's action.