US government orders Wells Fargo to reinstate whistle blower

The US government had ordered Wells Fargo & Co to reinstate a former bank manager, who was fired after he reported suspected illegal behaviour to his superiors as well as on a company hotline.

The manager, who had not been identified, was dismissed in 2010 after he reported incidents of suspected bank, mail and wire fraud by two bankers in the Los Angeles area, according to a statement yesterday from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The San Francisco-based lender would also be required to pay the whistle-blower about $5.4 million for the lost wages, compensatory damages as also legal fees after OSHA determined his warnings were at least a contributing factor in the termination.

While the agency did not elaborate on the alleged misconduct, regulators announced in September that Wells Fargo employees sought for years to meet aggressive sales targets by opening unauthorised accounts for customers.

The scandal led to investigations and congressional hearings, which led to a leadership shakeup. Executives had to forgo bonuses, and a number of senior managers in the consumer business were sacked.

Wells Fargo spokesman Vince Scanlon said in an emailed statement. ''This decision is a preliminary order and to date there has been no hearing on the merits of this case. We take seriously the concerns of current and former team members.''

The $5.4 million, which would cover back pay, compensatory damages and legal fees, was the largest individual award ever ordered through OSHA's whistle-blower protection programme, according to Barbara Goto, the agency's regional administrator in San Francisco.

It was also the first financial penalty against a company that the agency had announced in a news release since the inauguration of president

OSHA said, the manager ''lost his job after reporting suspected fraudulent behavior to superiors and a bank ethics hotline.''

The manager who worked in the Los Angeles area had received good job performance reviews but was ''abruptly dismissed'' after he reported ''separate incidents of suspected bank, mail and wire fraud by two bankers under his supervision,'' the agency said in a news release.