In our society, it can often seem as if the “little guy” or “little gal” has no power or ability to resist a strong and powerful individual or corporation. This can discourage some people who may witness a large or influential person or company commit a criminal or unethical act from reporting such behavior or pursuing a qui tam lawsuit. However, actions taken by the California State Treasurer against banking giant Wells Fargo illustrate just how powerful whistleblowers can, in fact, be.
A Recap of the Wells Fargo Scandal
In recent weeks the extent of the Wells Fargo account scandal has come to light. Although investigations into Wells Fargo’s opening of unauthorized accounts goes back to 2013, only recently has it come to light that the scandal involved thousands of employees and went on for nearly five years. As detailed before Congress recently, Wells Fargo employees – under pressure to meet quotas for new accounts and getting customers to sign on for additional products or services – would open new accounts and products for existing customers without getting the permission of the customer first. Some customers would be tagged with overdraft penalties (for instance) when their checking account suddenly did not have enough money to cover all outstanding checks written against the account because a Wells Fargo employee had taken money from the checking account and used it to open a new savings account in the customer’s name.