Wells Fargo & Co. ("Wells Fargo" or the "Company") came under fire for a scandal involving its employees creating accounts for customers without their knowledge to meet standards that were being set by the Company. As a response to the scandal, Wells Fargo has paid a settlement of $185 million in restitution to the customers affected by the fake accounts and unfair charges. It also fired 5,300 employees over the last few years in an attempt to end any unethical behavior.
Blackberry Ltd. ("Blackberry" or the "Company") successfully argued for the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by investors, that claimed the Company and its executives had hidden information about the Z10 smartphone. The Z10's release was not successful, and investors claimed that the Company knew that the phone's launch would fail. After the dismissal, the Plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, but their dismissal was affirmed.
A company is obligated to disclose to shareholders anything within its knowledge that could affect its stock price. Failure to do so, could result in potential liability. For example, a class of shareholders filed a securities lawsuit against HCA Holdings Inc. ("HCA") alleging that prior to its $4.3 billion initial public offering ("IPO"), HCA failed to disclose an ongoing internal investigation of unnecessary cardiac procedures after a complaint made by a whistleblower. Schuh v. HCA Holdings, Inc., et al. No. 3:11-cv-01033 (M.D. Tn. 2011).
Under the Securities and Exchange Commission's whistleblower program, employees who provide valuable information about securities fraud can receive sizable award payouts. Generally, though, if a compliance staff member or a high-level employee -- an executive, for instance -- reports a securities violation after hearing about it through another employee or through the company's compliance processes, then the staffer or executive is ineligible to receive an award from the SEC.
A qui tam lawsuit filed against Wells Fargo by two whistleblowers has been unsealed. The suit claims that Wachovia, which was bought by Wells Fargo in 2008, defrauded the federal government by accepting billions from federal programs while engaging in and concealing fraudulent banking practices, including falsifying certifications of the bank's financial statements. Wells Fargo is accused of not being upfront about the fraud inherited from Wachovia.
Under the Dodd-Frank Act, whistleblowers can receive sizable awards for notifying the Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) of securities fraud. The first payout -- close to $50,000 -- was made in 2012, and the whistleblower program continues to be effective. The S.E.C. is authorized to award between 10 and 30 percent of a sum collected by the government as a result of information provided by a whistleblower.
An interesting report from the global consulting firm NERA traces the number and kind of consumer class action settlements in the last four years. The settlements, ranging from 2010 through 2013, related to anti-trust claims (price fixing, for instance), consumer fraud, product liability and false advertising, among other issues. Examined in the report are 479 class action suits, nearly 85 percent of which involved a monetary payment to plaintiffs.