Latest in a Long Line of Wells Fargo Scandals Reinforces the Power and Importance of Whistleblowers
March 3rd, 2023
Since 2016, banking and financial services giant Wells Fargo has paid more than $6 billion in fines and restitution for a wide range of fraudulent and illegal activities that affected its customers. In December 2022, Wells Fargo added billions more in penalties to its extraordinary record of misconduct. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has ordered it to pay more than $2 billion to consumers and a $1.7 billion civil penalty for legal violations that led to billions of dollars in financial harm to its customers, including the loss of their vehicles and homes.
While certainly a leader of the pack, Wells Fargo is not alone in engaging in fraud, dishonesty and other wrongful or illegal conduct. All too often, this activity manages to fly under the radar and continues without consequences or repercussions. Sometimes, however, people who become aware of such acts – often employees – feel compelled to take a stand and call it out. These brave individuals, called “whistleblowers,” will report violations of the law or expose other disreputable or illegal activities at great risk to their careers and livelihoods. Fortunately, the law not only protects whistleblowers from retaliation and firing, but also establishes mechanisms through which many whistleblowers can obtain compensation for their selfless efforts.
Protections From Retaliation and Potential Rewards for Whistleblowers
Wells Fargo’s illegal acts were uncovered because of a combination of consumer complaints and internal whistleblowers who reported the misconduct through the CFPB’s whistleblower program. The program is just one of many established by law and administered by federal agencies and state governments to encourage whistleblowers to come forward with information regarding illegal activities.
That encouragement generally comes in two forms. Like the CFPB’s program, almost all whistleblower programs and statutes offer protection by prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who report misconduct or assist the government in any actions or proceedings arising from such activities. These anti-retaliation laws typically allow victims of prohibited retaliation to seek back pay, reinstatement or front pay, compensatory damages and other remedies from their employers.
The other way these programs encourage whistleblowers to speak up is the potential for them to receive a reward—often a percentage of any amounts recovered by the government as a result of the information they provide. That share can amount to a substantial payday for a victorious whistleblower. But, as is the case with the CFPB, not all programs directly provide for whistleblower rewards. However, conduct reported to the CFPB may fall under other reward statutes such as the False Claims Act, the SEC Whistleblower Program, or the Financial Institutions Anti-Fraud Enforcement Act (FIAFEA).
Many whistleblower actions involve exposing corporate misconduct that defrauds federal or state governments, costing taxpayers billions of dollars every year. But plenty of whistleblowers report wrongdoing that directly harms consumers and the general public, as seen in the Wells Fargo case and other high-profile matters. No matter the nature of a company’s malfeasance, those who are brave enough to do the right thing under difficult circumstances and call it out deserve respect, gratitude and support.
Halunen Law: 25 Years of Standing Up for Whistleblowers
If you’re aware of or suspect illegal conduct by your employer or other employees at your company and are ready to share your knowledge with the proper authorities, the whistleblower attorneys at Halunen Law stand ready to assist you. For 25 years, we have protected the rights and reputations of countless individuals who had the courage to do the right thing, recovering millions of dollars in compensation for them in the process. During a free, confidential consultation, our whistleblower lawyers can answer your questions and help determine if you have grounds to pursue a claim. Call Halunen Law at 612-605-4098 or complete our contact form to arrange for your consultation.