Retaliation for ‘Playing by the Rules’

There’s a troubling new HR-centric theme spinning out of the Wells Fargo illicit-accounts mess, according to today’s New York Times: A group of aggrieved Wells Fargo workers who say they faced retaliation in some form from their employer — by being either fired or demoted — for staying honest and falling short of sales goals they say were unrealistic.

These workers who claim that they played by the rules and were punished for it, the NYT reports, are starting to coalesce around two lawsuits that were just filed and that seek class-action status:

The first was filed in Los Angeles last week by former Wells Fargo workers who say that while their colleagues created unauthorized accounts to meet cross-selling quotas, they were penalized or terminated for refusing to do the same. The bank’s chief executive, John Stumpf, has often stated his goal that each Wells customer should have at least eight accounts with the company. That aggressive target has made the bank’s stock a darling on Wall Street, the lawsuit notes.

The story notes that a federal lawsuit with analogous claims was filed on Monday in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, seeking to create a class of current and former Wells employees across the country who had similar experiences.

“These are the people who have been left holding the bag,” said Jonathan Delshad, the lawyer representing the workers in both suits. “It was a revolving door. If you weren’t willing to engage in these types of illegal practices, they just booted you out the door and replaced you.”

One of those people, Yesenia Guitron, told the paper that she did everything the company had taught employees to do to report such misconduct internally. She told her manager about her concerns. She called Wells Fargo’s ethics hotline. When those steps yielded no results, she went up the chain, contacting a human resources representative and the bank’s regional manager:

In a statement on Monday, Wells Fargo said: “We disagree with the allegations in the complaint and will vigorously defend against the misrepresentations it contains about Wells Fargo and all of the Wells Fargo team members whose careers have been built on doing the right thing by our customers every day.”

No matter the ultimate resolution to this dark chapter of the venerable bank’s history, this latest twist to the story should serve as a reminder to HR leaders to ensure that the processes they have put in place to catch illicit activity in the workplace are actually doing their jobs.