Former employees file class action against Wells Fargo

Sept 24 (Reuters) - Two former Wells Fargo & Co employees have filed a class action in California seeking $2.6 billion or more for workers who tried to meet aggressive sales quotas without engaging in fraud and were later demoted, forced to resign or fired.

The lawsuit on behalf of people who worked for Wells Fargo in California over the past 10 years, including current employees, focuses on those who followed the rules and were penalized for not meeting sales quotas.

"Wells Fargo fired or demoted employees who failed to meet unrealistic quotas while at the same time providing promotions to employees who met these quotas by opening fraudulent accounts," the lawsuit filed on Thursday in California Superior Court in Los Angeles County said.

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Wells Fargo has fired some 5,300 employees for opening as many as 2 million accounts in customers' names without their authorization. On Sept. 8, a federal regulator and Los Angeles prosecutor announced a $190 million settlement with Wells.

The revelations are a severe hit to Wells Fargo's reputation. During the financial crisis, the bank trumpeted being a conservative bank in contrast with its rivals.

A Wells Fargo spokesman on Saturday declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses Wells Fargo of wrongful termination, unlawful business practices and failure to pay wages, overtime, and penalties under California law.

Former employees Alexander Polonsky and Brian Zaghi allege Wells Fargo managers pressed workers to meet quotas of 10 accounts per day, required progress reports several times daily and reprimanded workers who fell short.

Polonsky and Zaghi filed applications matching customer requests and were counseled, demoted and later terminated, the lawsuit said.

While executives at the top benefited from the activity, the blame landed on thousands of $12-per-hour employees who tried to meet the quotas and were often required to work off the clock to do so, the lawsuit said.

Employees with a conscience who tried to meet quotas without engaging in fraud were the biggest victims, losing wages, benefits and suffering anxiety, humiliation and embarrassment, the lawsuit said.

Wells Fargo was aware many accounts were illegally opened, unwanted, carried a zero balance, or were simply a result of unethical business practices, the lawsuit said.

"Wells Fargo knew that their unreasonable quotas were driving these unethical behaviors that were used to fraudulently increase their stock price and benefit the CEO at the expense of the low level employees," the lawsuit said. (Reporting by David Bailey in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)


See photos of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf:
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Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf
John Stumpf, President and CEO of Wells Fargo, participates in a panel at the 2015 Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco, California November 2, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf speaks during a news conference for Wachovia employees at the Wachovia corporate headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, October 15, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Keane (UNITED STATES)
TARP recipient financial institution leaders testify before House Financial Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 11, 2009. From left are, Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein, JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon, Bank of New York's Robert Kelly, Bank of America's Ken Lewis,State Street's Ronald Logue, Morgan Stanley's John Mack, Citi's Vikram Pandit, and Wells Fargo's John Stumpf. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES)
Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf testifies before a Senate Banking Committee hearing on the firm's sales practices on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 20, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 20: John Stumpf, chairman and CEO of the Wells Fargo & Company, prepares for testimony before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee September 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on the topic of 'An Examination of Wells Fargo's Unauthorized Accounts and the Regulatory Response.' (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
John Stumpf, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Wells Fargo & Co., speaks at the Bloomberg Year Ahead: 2014 conference in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. Stumpf said he dislikes Federal Reserve monthly bond purchases at this point in the economic cycle and that the policy has hurt savers. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 30: Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf (L) speaks with Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Gerry Baker on FOX Business Networks' 'Opening Bell With Maria Bartiromo' at FOX Studios on April 30, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images)
John Stumpf, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Wells Fargo & Co., speaks during an interview in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, May 7, 2015. Wells Fargo, the fourth-biggest U.S. bank by assets and the nation's leading home lender, in March left Stumpf's pay unchanged at $19.3 million after the firm generated a bigger profit than any other U.S. bank for a second straight year. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
John Stumpf, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Wells Fargo & Co., listens to a question during an interview in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, May 7, 2015. Wells Fargo, the fourth-biggest U.S. bank by assets and the nation's leading home lender, in March left Stumpf's pay unchanged at $19.3 million after the firm generated a bigger profit than any other U.S. bank for a second straight year. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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