A former longtime Wells Fargo broker has won a $220,000 arbitration award from his former employer for wrongfully terminating him and making a false statement on his Form U5, according to the arbitration panel’s recent decision.
The broker, Gary Helbling, disputed Wells Fargo’s claim on his Form U5 that he had his assistant deliberately change a customer’s address from California to New Hampshire to facilitate the sale of an annuity, Helbling’s attorney, Richard Slavin of Connecticut law firm Cohen & Wolf, said.
The firm falsely alleged that Helbling changed the address because he hadn’t taken sufficient continuing education as required in California to sell annuities, Slavin explained.
In fact, Helbling changed the address because the customer had indeed moved, Slavin argued during the hearing.
The customer provided a sworn affidavit and testified during the hearing that Helbling changed the address at her request. She moved to New Hampshire to be with her son but eventually decided to return to California due to New Hampshire’s cold weather, she said at the hearing.
“We were very happy that the panel agreed with our point of view about the facts,” Slavin said.
Helbling worked for Wells Fargo in New Haven and Hamden, Connecticut, from January 2001 to June 2014, when he was discharged while under review for the change of the customer’s address, according to his BrokerCheck report. The longtime Wells Fargo broker had been with Wells Fargo or its predecessors for some 23 years, going back to A.G. Edwards, Slavin said.
The arbitration award was significant in that Helbling was an employee at will, meaning he could be terminated at any time without any reason, explanation or notice. Slavin, however, cited Connecticut laws that prohibit the dismissal of at-will employees if it violates important public policy. Slavin argued that Wells Fargo breached an important public policy against fraud when it put a false statement in Helbing’s Form U5.
Slavin claimed that the firm intended to go after Helbling’s customers, the reason that he said motivated the defamatory statement.
Emily Acquisto, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, declined to comment on the panel’s decision.
Helbling was awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages but was held liable for $30,000, which was the amount outstanding on a retention loan he received from Wells Fargo when it took over Wachovia.
“They wanted him to stay,” Slavin said.
In addition to paying Helbling a net amount of $220,000, Wells Fargo was ordered to expunge the reason for termination and termination explanation from Helbling’s Form U5. The panel recommended that the reason for termination be changed to “other” and the termination explanation to “terminated without cause.”
“We were very happy to receive the order of expungement,” Slavin said. “They would not have ordered expungement if they didn’t believe that the language on the U5 was false or erroneous.”
Helbling, however, was not able to get back his customer lists and contact information as he had sought.