Yesenia Jesse Guitron, a Wells Fargo employee in Napa County California who began working for Wells Fargo in 2008 complained to the company when she noticed some of her co-workers were offering to open free accounts which were actually premium accounts with heavy fees. She says she repeatedly complained to the company several times over the years about this but nothing was done. Thousands of customers were improperly charged, many became overdrawn and some had their credit wrecked. Guitron was fired in 2010, without warning. Guitron filed a lawsuit claiming Wells Fargo fired her for speaking out against the fraudulent practices she witnessed. Now, more than seven years after being ousted from her job a Bay Area journalists’ group is scheduled to honor Yesenia Guitron for her role in bringing her former company’s misdeeds to light. Guitron, who worked for Wells Fargo N.A.’s St. Helena branch from 2008 to 2010, will receive a James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter. The ceremony is scheduled for March 27 in San Francisco, SPJ NorCal announced last month. Guitron, who will receive the society’s award for whistleblowers, was one of several Wells Fargo workers to describe aggressive sales targets that compelled employees to open bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages and other services in customers’ names without their permission or knowledge. The revelation of the fake accounts starting in 2013 led to hundreds of millions in dollars in fines, the dismissal of more than 5,300 workers and the resignation of chief executive John Stumpf.
After leaving Wells Fargo, Guitron made her allegations public in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. But a federal judge ruled against her in 2012, saying that even unreasonable sales goals were not illegal because they did not target Guitron and applied equally to all employees. Guitron will receive no whistleblower reward.
Wells Fargo has faced hundreds of millions of dollars in fines, Stumpf resigned as CEO, and the Federal Reserve last month forbade the bank to grow its assets further until it improves internal oversight meaning any new assets such as loan balances must be offset by cuts elsewhere. A lawsuit by Wells Fargo shareholders reportedly alleges the company misled them about the rash of bogus accounts, contributing to falling stock prices once the scandal broke.