Warren Fears Trump's Labor Department May Neglect Wells Fargo (WFC) Probe - TheStreet

This article, originally published at 12:26 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, has been updated with market data.

Last fall, the U.S. Labor Department opened a "top to bottom" review into labor complaints against Wells Fargo (WFC) - Get Report , including a claim that some employees worked off the clock to meet the ambitious sales quotas at the heart of a fake-account scandal.

The agency even added a page to its website with advice for workers at the San Francisco-based bank who believed their rights had been violated.

Now, less than a week after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, a real estate mogul who promised on the campaign trail to eliminate excessive federal regulation, that page has disappeared.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, wants to know why.

"I am concerned that the Department of Labor has removed the website where Wells Fargo's employees who were victims of the company's fraudulent actions could file labor complaints or report illegal activity," Warren wrote in a Thursday letter to Acting Labor Secretary Edward Hugler. "Taking down this website enables Wells Fargo to escape full responsibility for its fraudulent actions and the department to shirk its outstanding obligations to American workers."

Warren said the page was still accessible on Jan. 20, the day of Trump's inauguration but it had disappeared by Jan. 24.

However, Labor Department spokesman Stephen Barr said Friday that the Wells Fargo page was removed on Jan. 9 while President Obama was still in office. Barr added that he did not know why the page was removed or whether it will be restored.

Warren and other senators had requested Labor's probe in September, after complaints of wage-and-hour violations surfaced following Wells Fargo's $185 million settlement with regulators over the fake accounts.

Employees under pressure to sell as many as eight products per household had opened both credit card and savings accounts for existing customers who hadn't approved them, authorities said.

Then-CEO John Stumpf, who said more than 5,300 employees were dismissed for the practice over a five-year period, was subsequently summoned to two contentious Congressional hearings before abruptly retiring in October.

The scandal also cost the bank lucrative deals with government bond-issuers, prompted lawsuits from shareholders and customers, and spurred probes by state attorneys general and the U.S. Justice Department.

The removal of the web page now, with fresh complaints emerging as recently as this week, is particularly worrisome, Warren said.

CNN Moneyreported Tuesday that the bank may have found some evidence that whistleblowers suffered retaliation after they tried to stop illegal sales tactics. Richele Messick, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman, said Friday that there is no place for retaliation at the company.

In addition, the Wall Street Journalreported Tuesday that more than a dozen current and former Wells Fargo employees said they saw colleagues shred papers that could have been related to the bogus accounts.

The company's shares dropped -1.1% Friday to $56.63. Wells Fargo lost as much as 11% of its market value in the wake of the settlement before erasing losses amid a broader rally in bank stocks after Trump's election.

For workers, he Labor Department's decision sends a horrible message, said Boston University Law Professor Cornelius Hurley. "The true test will be what the new labor regime does with the complaints that are filed either on the site when it existed or through other channels," he said.

While it's not clear who removed the page, Hurley says it was clearly either someone in the Trump administration or a career staffer who "recognizes that there is a new sheriff in town and they better behave accordingly."

While Trump's team has wasted no time communicating his wishes to federal agencies, the president's nominee to lead the Labor Department has yet to take office.

A confirmation hearing for Andy Puzder -- the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which controls fast-food chains Carl's Jr. and Hardee's -- was postponed on Thursday for the third time to allow him more time to submit required paperwork.

Warren's letter doesn't mention Elaine Chao, Trump's pick for Transportation Secretary and a board member at Wells Fargo. Chao, also a former Labor Secretary in the George W. Bush administration, is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and one of the most powerful U.S. lawmakers.

Listed first among her principal qualifications and experience on Wells Fargo's most recent annual shareholder ballot is "government relations."

Chao, who is expected to step down from her Wells role and other directorships once confirmed, attended a hearing for the post on Jan. 11. She was OK'd by the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee earlier this week, but still awaits approval by the full Senate.

Under the Obama administration, "robust Department of Labor enforcement of wage and hour laws meant that 1.7 million hardworking Americans were finally paid the wages they were owed," Warren wrote.

"I hope that the department will continue this important work under President Trump and will ensure that every Wells Fargo employee that was cheated out of wages for their work or illegally retaliated against will be provided all of the remedies available," she added.

Warren had previously criticized Wells Fargo's auditor, KPMG, and the post-Enron Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

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