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Did Wells Fargo violate overtime laws? Elizabeth Warren among 8 senators seeking Labor investigation

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questions Wells Fargo Chief Executive John Stumpf during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Tuesday.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questions Wells Fargo Chief Executive John Stumpf during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Tuesday.
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A group of senators on Thursday requested a federal investigation into whether Wells Fargo & Co. violated labor laws after allegations the bank failed to pay overtime to tellers and other employees who worked late nights and weekends to meet aggressive sales quotas.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and seven colleagues wrote to Labor Secretary Tom Perez and David Weil, administrator of the department’s Wage and Hour Division saying, “The emerging portrait of the company’s … behavior suggests potential widespread exploitation of its own workforce in order to facilitate the widespread exploitation of its customer base.

“Particularly when one considers that the median wage for a bank teller is about $12 an hour, it is the obligation of the Wage and Hour Division to ensure that every Wells employee that has struggled to do the right thing in the face of such exploitation has been fully paid for every hour of work,” the senators wrote.

In addition to Warren, who this week called for the resignation of Wells Fargo Chief Executive John Stumpf, the letter was signed by Democrats Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. The other signer was former Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

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Wells Fargo spokeswoman Jennifer Dunn said the bank’s employees “are our greatest asset.”

“We strive to make every one of them feel valued, rewarded and recognized, and we pride ourselves on creating a positive environment for our team members, including market-competitive compensation, career-development opportunities, a broad array of benefits, and a strong offering of work-life programs,” she said.

Labor Department spokesman Jason Surbey said the department had received the letter.

“While we cannot discuss details of potential law enforcement decision-making, we do take the concerns raised in the letter very seriously,” he said.

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The senators’ letter could add to the problems Wells Fargo faces after employees opened as many as 2 million accounts that customers never wanted in a scandal uncovered by the Los Angeles Times in 2013.

This month, the bank agreed to pay $185 million to settle investigations by Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau into improper sales tactics.

But Senate and House committees have opened their own investigations, and the Justice Department is looking into possible criminal charges. The Senate Banking Committee held a hearing Tuesday in which Stumpf was sharply questioned. And the House Financial Services Committee is planning a hearing next week.

The eight senators requesting the Labor Department investigation noted several civil lawsuits, including one filed in Los Angeles by nine former Wells Fargo employees, and other complaints by bank workers alleging failure to pay overtime. Some of the complaints go back to 1999, the senators said.

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Many of the allegations stem from workers who said they were penalized when they did not meet sales quotas.

“When quotas weren’t met, employees faced threats of termination, mandated hours of unpaid overtime, harassment and other forms of retaliation,” the letter said.

Citing a 2013 Times article, the senators said that Wells Fargo employees “have described a management culture characterized by ‘mental abuse,’ being forced to work overtime ‘for what felt like after-school detention’ during the week and on weekends, and being ‘severely chastised and embarrassed in front of 60-plus managers.”

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

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UPDATES:

1:10 p.m.: This article was updated with comment from a Labor Department spokesman.

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12:55 p.m.: This article was updated with comment from a Wells Fargo spokeswoman.

This article originally was published at 11:35 a.m.


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