Senators seek Labor Department probe of Wells Fargo
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A Wells Fargo branch is seen in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, U.S. on February 10, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo
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By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Eight U.S. Democratic senators asked the Labor Department on Thursday to launch a probe into whether Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) may have violated wage and working hour laws by failing to pay overtime to tellers and sales representatives who stayed late to meet sales quotas.
The request comes after Wells Fargo earlier this month was ordered to pay $190 million to settle civil charges alleging its employees had set up about 2 million accounts and credit cards in customers' names that may have not been authorized.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau alleged in its complaint that Wells Fargo had a system in place which financially rewarded employees for each new account opened.
A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo said the bank strived to make all employees "feel valued, rewarded and recognized" in an environment that includes "market competitive compensation, career-development opportunities, a broad array of benefits, and a strong offering of work-life programs."
A spokesman for the Labor Department said the department cannot discuss details of law enforcement decision-making, but that it takes "the concerns raised in the letter very seriously."
The bank is facing mounting scrutiny over the issue. Federal prosecutors have also launched a criminal investigation into the matter, a source previously told Reuters.
Earlier this week, lawmakers on the Senate Banking Committee grilled Wells Fargo Chief Executive John Stumpf about the accounts, with some calling on him to resign and forfeit his earnings and hold other senior executives accountable.
In the letter to the Labor Department, the lawmakers expressed concerns about how the high-pressure sales culture at the bank could also give rise to violations of federal labor laws.
"In the wake of the CFPB's announcement, dozens of former and current Wells Fargo employees have come forward to describe the lengths they went to in order to meet the bank's aggressive sales quotas," they wrote.
"For years 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.'"
The letter was signed by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senate Banking Ranking Minority Member Sherrod Brown, Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Alan Crosby)
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