SAN FRANCISCO — Wells Fargo is
experiencing more fallout from its fake-account scandal.
According to California
Labor News, a former branch manager has filed a lawsuit against
the bank, alleging the bank fired her after she came forth with
first-hand knowledge of alleged illegal sales tactics employed by the
Diana Duenas-Brown of Somona,
California filed a federal lawsuit in December in U.S. District Court
for the Northern District of California. As previously reported in
The Northern California Record, Duenas-Brown was fired in March 2015
for reporting that Wells Fargo engaged in fraudulent and deceptive
practices against its consumers. After Duenas-Brown reported the
activity, she began to be harassed by her supervisor. Her lawsuit
claims wrongful termination and retaliation.
Duenas-Brown was a Wells Fargo employee for 14 years.
Wells Fargo has come under
scrutiny during the past year as the Consumer Financial
Protection Bureau accused the bank of opening more than 2 million
bank and credit accounts without customers' knowledge starting in
2011. Wells later told CNN Money in September 2016 that it had
terminated more than 5,000 employees in the aftermath of the
Wells Fargo responded
to Duenas-Brown's allegations saying it has zero tolerance for any
Ingrid Evans, a founding partner at the Evans Firm Inc. in San
Francisco, told The Northern California Record that despite
Wells Fargo’s firing of thousands of workers related to the
allegations, employers are becoming more aggressive in fighting
whistleblower retaliation claims.
“Employers will try to go after whistleblowers for blowing the
whistle especially if they are in possession of confidential
material,” she said. “Whistleblowers are an important part of our
democratic process to protect consumers. The fact they may have
confidential material should not be able to be used against them.”
Evans said Duenas-Brown claim also faces the hurdle that
California law does not actually ban abusive conduct in the
workplace. In 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law
Bill 2053, which added new requirements for employers regarding
training and the implantations of training programs to prevent abuse.
But while the law does require employers with more than 50
employees to provide training, it still does not statutorily ban
abusive conduct in the workplace. It also does not require those same
employers to create a definitive process for employees who have come
forward and alleged abusive workplace conduct.
“Any type of conduct that is harassing or verging on something
that might be illegal should come under scrutiny under California
law,” Evans said. “There are some laws in California for illegal
fraudulent and unfair business practices, and it would be nice to see
unfair and fraudulent practices such as harassment and retaliation
given added strength so there aren’t quite as many requirements for
proving those cases.”
Evans pointed out that California law does address many forms of
abusive conduct under other statutes, such as sexual harassment and
Evans said she is not sure what a Donald Trump administration
would mean for whistleblowers and whistleblower protections, but is
willing to reserve judgment.
“I don't know if anyone can anticipate what is going to happen,”
she said. “I don't think anyone can guess, but I certainly hope
people are continued to be protected by the law.”