Ex-Wells Fargo employees say they faced retaliation after calling confidential ethics hotline

A Wells Fargo bank in San Francisco.
(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Former Wells Fargo employees say they listened to the advice of CEO John Stumpf and called the company's ethics hotline to complain about violations — and were promptly fired.

The bank has admitted that some of its employees made millions of fake accounts for unaware customers, leading to a fine of $185 million. The company has fired 5,300 people, primarily low-level employees, and during testimony in front of incensed senators on Tuesday, Stumpf said all team members are "encouraged" to call the anonymous tip line, because "we want to hear from them." CNN Money spoke with several former employees who say they were uncomfortable with the illegal actions they were being asked to take, but after they called the ethics line — which is supposed to be confidential — they were let go. Bill Bado, a former banker in Pennsylvania, told CNN Money his life has been ruined, because other banks are afraid to hire him due to the mark on his securities license, and his home might soon be foreclosed.

Bardo said in September 2013, after being asked repeatedly to open up bogus bank and credit accounts, he called the hotline and sent an email to an HR representative, revealing that he was being asked to "do things that I know are not ethical and would be grounds for discharge." As an example, he said a branch manager asked him multiple times to enroll customers in online banking without their knowledge or request. Eight days later, he was fired for being tardy. That wasn't surprising to a former HR official, who told CNN Money that the bank would target whistleblowers by monitoring them and waiting for a misstep. If they arrived at work two minutes late, that was grounds for a dismissal. It is against the law for a company to suppress whistleblowing, and a Wells Fargo spokeswoman told CNN Money the bank does "not tolerate retaliation against team members who report their concerns in good faith," and said "everything submitted to the EthicsLine is investigated."

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