By Leah Judge
This “Whistleblower Spotlight” features another of our 2016 Whistleblower of the Year candidates, Wells Fargo whistleblowers Yesenia Guitron and Judi Klosek. These two women attempted to blow the whistle on Wells Fargo’s deceptive sales practices, including the unauthorized opening and closing of customer accounts, in 2010—three years before CEO John Stumpf conceded the company’s knowledge of the misconduct.
Ms. Guitron, a single mother, began working as a Personal Banker in Wells Fargo’s St. Helena, California branch in 2008. Only two months into the job, she began noticing strange things happening with customer accounts. Among other oddities, Ms. Guitron observed customers “ending up with 10-to-15 debit cards that they didn’t request.” As she recently told CBS News, “I started noticing what I thought were honest mistakes. But then these honest mistakes, you know, became a very clear pattern.” When Ms. Guitron followed company policy and sent her concerns up the chain of command, she allegedly was stonewalled, subjected to on-the-job retaliation, and ultimately terminated for “insubordination.”
Ms. Klosek also began working as a Personal Banker at one of Wells Fargo’s Northern California branches in 2008. Like Ms. Guitron, Ms. Klosek soon raised concerns to management about “unethical conduct, opening and closing accounts, forced sales, ordering products that customers don’t want,” and generally “shoving products down customers’ throats.” She believed it was her responsibility to report the misconduct she observed; after all, “a consumer has a right to know what he or she is buying, not to be forced into something they’re not asking for and full disclosure.” Wells Fargo apparently disagreed, dismissing Ms. Klosek’s complaints. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the company also terminated Ms. Klosek’s employment.
Together, Ms. Guitron and Ms. Klosek filed a federal lawsuit against Wells Fargo in 2010, alleging whistleblower retaliation. The women asserted that the company’s unreasonable sales goals and intense managerial pressure drove employees, fearful of losing their jobs, to engage in the questionable and illegal practices they had personally observed.
A federal judge disagreed, dismissing the lawsuit in 2012. Siding with Wells Fargo, the judge concluded that the company legitimately fired Ms. Guitron because she “failed to meet her sales goals, and that she was thus not performing her job satisfactorily.” The judge also agreed that there was no connection between Ms. Klosek’s attempt to blow the whistle and her eventual termination.
Well before Senator Elizabeth Warren chastised CEO Stumpf for his “gutless leadership,” Ms. Guitron and Ms. Klosek bravely followed their consciences to stop Wells Fargo from defrauding its customers, risking their livelihoods and their reputations in the process. Although Ms. Guitron feels vindicated by recent events, she was stuck with $18,000 in legal fees and no longer works in banking. For the courage it took to stand up to this banking behemoth, we nominate Ms. Guitron and Ms. Klosek for 2016 Whistleblower of the Year.
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