After Duke Tran escaped from slavery, but before he became a millionaire, he was a Wells Fargo employee.
He worked at the bank’s debt-collections center near Portland, Ore., talking on the phone to customers who owed Wells Fargo money. It wasn’t glamorous, but the job enabled him to afford a two-story suburban house with mustard-colored aluminum siding. After more than three decades in the United States, Mr. Tran felt that he was the living embodiment of the American dream.
And then it all started to crumble.
In 2014, according to Mr. Tran, his boss ordered him to lie to customers who were facing foreclosure. When Mr. Tran refused, he said, he was fired. He worried that he wouldn’t be able to make his monthly mortgage payments and that he was about to become homeless.
Joining a cadre of former employees claiming they were mistreated for speaking out about problems at the bank, Mr. Tran sued. He argued in court filings that he had been fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on misconduct at the giant San Francisco-based bank. Mr. Tran said he didn’t want his job back — he wanted Wells Fargo to admit that it had been wrong to fire him and wrong to mislead customers who were facing foreclosure.
It was a long shot. Banks generally are happy to reach private settlements, but loath to publicly admit wrongdoing, which can open them up to litigation. But Mr. Tran, who fled Vietnam as a teenager and then was enslaved by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, wasn’t daunted by long odds.