(Updates with comments from Elizabeth Warren, background about
more recent proposed class action filings and a call by U.S.
Senator for the SEC to also investigate)
By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON, Sept 29 At least five Wells Fargo
employees have sued the bank or filed complaints with
regulators alleging that they were fired after reporting the
opening of customer accounts without their permission, according
to a Reuters review of lawsuits and complaints to the U.S. Labor
The suits and complaints, filed between 2010 and 2014, raise
questions about how early Wells Fargo knew about such
allegations and how it handled them.
Wells Fargo was ordered to pay $190 million in fines and
restitution this month after regulators said its high-pressure
sales environment led to the opening of as many as 2 million
customer accounts that customers may not have authorized.
Wells Fargo spokeswoman Richele Messick declined to comment
on the employees' allegations but said the bank "takes measures
to protect team members from retaliation."
One of the fired employees was Birinder Kaur Shankar, a
former Colorado-based customer sales representative who in July
2014 filed a complaint with the Labor Department's Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
She claimed that the bank retaliated against her after she
reported in 2013 that local managers were pressuring employees
to engage in "gaming" the bank's sales quotas by opening
In the complaint reviewed by Reuters, Shankar alleged that
service managers, branch managers and district managers were
"well versed in the art of creative selling" and that customer
sales staffers had "direct orders to mislead customers."
"Little did I know that my complaints to the ethics hotline
of Wells Fargo Bank on these practices would be openly and
directly conveyed to the very managers who would then start
collecting write-up data on me," she wrote.
Shankar settled with the bank in 2015 for an undisclosed
sum, according to Labor Department records. Shankar declined to
comment, citing a confidentiality agreement that was a condition
of her settlement.
Another former Wells personal banker, Claudia Ponce de Leon,
filed an OSHA complaint in December 2011, alleging that the bank
made it "virtually impossible" for branch employees to meet
ambitious quotas without cheating.
Ponce de Leon was promoted to become a branch general
manager in Pomona, California in June 2011 and discovered
employees were engaged in "excessive gaming," according to the
Shortly after she raised concerns about the practice, she
was "terminated without cause," according to her complaint.
Nearly five years later, her attorney Yosef Peretz said she
has only received sporadic communications from OSHA and has not
been interviewed by investigators. Only recently did OSHA show
more interest, he said.
"I heard from them very recently - after this whole mess
with Wells Fargo," he said.
The Labor Department has an obligation to efficiently handle
such complaints from rank-and-file Wells workers, said
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a frequent critic of the
"Wells Fargo might want to push the blame for the
consequences of its fraudulent actions onto low-level employees,
but the Department of Labor should stand up for workers," Warren
Labor Department spokeswoman Amanda McClure did not provide
comments in response to questions from Reuters about how OSHA
handled the Wells Fargo complaints.
Messick, the Wells Fargo spokeswoman, declined to comment on
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez told Warren in a Sept. 26
letter that his office now plans a "top-to-bottom" review of all
allegations that the department has received concerning Wells
Two other clients of Peretz - former personal bankers
Yesenia Guitron and Judi Klosek - also filed OSHA complaints, as
well as a joint federal lawsuit in 2010 claiming Wells Fargo
retaliated against them for blowing the whistle on similar
Guitron alleged that managers responded by falsifying a
paper trail that purported to document her poor performance,
forbidding her from taking family medical leave and firing her
improperly. Klosek said the bank improperly gave away her
position while she was on disability to receive treatment for
breast cancer. The bank did not rehire her when she sought other
positions, according to her complaint.
A federal judge ultimately dismissed all of Guitron's claims
against the bank, saying Wells Fargo was justified for firing
her because she failed to meet sales quotas and refused to meet
Guitron said she feels vindicated by the sanctions against
Wells Fargo but remains upset that some of the people who she
alleges retaliated against her still work at the bank.
"If Wells Fargo wanted to make it right, I would say those
people need to go," she said.
The judge dismissed Klosek's retaliation claims but upheld
her contention that she was discriminated against based on her
disability. She settled with the bank on terms that were not
disclosed. Reuters was not able to locate Klosek for comment.
Julie Tishkoff, a former employee who worked as an
administrative assistant to a regional bank president, made
similar claims in a state lawsuit in 2011. She alleged that she
reported "fraudulent banking practices" as far back as November
2005, involving "bank employees forging customer signatures and
fraudulently opening accounts."
Tishkoff said the bank "instituted a four-year campaign of
retaliation" that included attacking her job performance and
public criticism, according to the lawsuit.
Messick, the Wells Fargo spokeswoman, said the bank had
settled the case in 2012. Attorneys for Tiskoff did not
immediately respond to requests for comment.
After Wells Fargo was ordered to pay penalties and
restitution, former employees filed proposed class-action
lawsuits claiming they were pressured to meet sales quotas and
On Thursday, Warren, along with Senate Democrats Jeff
Merkley of Oregon and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, also
separately called on the Securities and Exchange Commission to
investigate Wells Fargo for potentially misleading investors and
violating whistleblower protection rules.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington Editing by Soyoung
Kim and Brian Thevenot)