One of Wells Fargo Advisors former brokers has won $6.83 million in an arbitration dispute after alleging he was wrongfully terminated and defamed by the firm after cooperating with a regulatory investigation.
Gregory Kipple’s August 2009 dismissal from Wells Fargo came after he was tied to a customer complaint brought against the firm and cooperated with a resulting Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s investigation, his lawyer David Wechsler, founding partner of New York law firm Wechsler & Cohen LLP said Friday.
Wells Fargo wrote in Kipple’s public registration documents that his dismissal from Wells Fargo came for “failure to follow firm policies relating to ‘know your customers.’” Kipple’s written response in the documents assert that he did not work directly with a customer who had brought a complaint against the firm, while he had repeatedly complained about the behavior of the broker who was working with the customer.
After the firm settled with the customer and an investigation ensued, Kipple sent a letter directly to FINRA. He was subsequently dismissed from Wells Fargo. FINRA took no action against Kipple as a result of its investigation, Wechsler said.
In the arbitration, Kipple’s lawyer Wechsler worked to prove that there was a connection between Kipple’s cooperation with the investigation and his termination. Terminating Kipple for that cooperation would have been a violation of state law in New Jersey, where Kipple worked.
In addition to violating New Jersey laws, Kipple’s claim also alleged interference with advantageous business relations and offers, breach of contract and indemnification and advancement of fees.
The three-member FINRA panel ultimately sided with Kipple in its July 6 decision. The panel’s award included $4.3 million in compensatory damages, $1 million in damages for his defamation claim, $1 million in punitive damages related to New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act, $500,000 in attorneys’ fees and $30,000 in costs.
The FINRA panel also agreed with Kipple’s request to change the language on his Form U5. The reason for termination will be changed to “other” instead of “discharged.” It will also now read “terminated without cause.”
In an e-mail statement, Wells Fargo said it disagrees with the FINRA panel decision dated July 6.
“We are disappointed in the arbitration panel’s decision and are considering our alternatives,” Wells Fargo Spokesperson Rachelle Rowe said.
For Kipple, the panel’s ruling brought satisfaction and vindication, Wechsler said, following a situation that hurt his career.
“My client was made a sacrificial lamb and his career was virtually destroyed,” Wechsler said. “As a result of the scarlet letter that was emblazoned on him, a la Hester Prynne, he was unable to get another job at one of the wirehouses out there.”
Kipple has continued his career at independent broker-dealer Saxony Securities Inc. in Marlton, N.J., where he has been registered since August 2009.
Kipple originally requested no less than $26.1 million in compensatory damages when he first filed his claim, and ultimately requested $23.3 million in damages at the arbitration’s hearing. Kipple also asked for punitive damages, interest and expungement of his Form U5, attorneys’ fees, penalties, costs, disbursements and other relief.