SAN FRANCISCO–The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America Corp. in violation of the whistleblower protection provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for improperly firing an employee. The bank has been ordered to reinstate and pay the employee approximately $930,000, which includes back wages, interest, compensatory damages and attorney fees. The findings follow an investigation by OSHA’s San Francisco Regional Office, which was initiated after receiving a complaint from the Los Angeles-area employee.
“It’s clear from our investigation that Bank of America used illegal retaliatory tactics against this employee,” said OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels. “This employee showed great courage reporting potential fraud and standing up for the rights of other employees to do the same.”
The employee originally worked for Countrywide Financial Corp., which merged with Bank of America in July 2008. The employee led internal investigations that revealed widespread and pervasive wire, mail and bank fraud involving Countrywide employees. The employee alleged that those who attempted to report fraud to Countrywide’s Employee Relations Department suffered persistent retaliation. The employee was fired shortly after the merger.
“Whistleblowers play a vital role in ensuring the integrity of our financial system, as well as the safety of our food, air, water, workplaces and transportation systems,” added Michaels. “This case highlights the importance of defending employees against retaliation when they try to protect the public from the consequences of an employer’s illegal activities.”
Both the complainant and Bank of America can appeal the monetary damages to the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges within 30 days of receiving the findings.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad and maritime laws. Under these laws enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.