Whistleblower vs. JPMorgan: Compare the evidence
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration supported JPMorgan Chase's decision to terminate whistleblower Johnny Burris in 2012 for allegedly faking company letterhead. The 2010 bank document embedded below is an example of that letterhead. Burris says he altered it in order to create an electronic version from which he could rapidly print documents, particularly for clients while they waited.
It was signed in 2010 by JPMorgan Vice President Christine Baim, who Burris says was his compliance manager. Baim could not immediately be reached for comment.
Burris says this demonstrates that the bank had been aware for years that he was using the altered letterhead for convenience's sake. He adds that his files were filled with hundreds of them. But the OSHA finding says the bank first discovered the altered letterhead during a "routine audit" four months after Burris was fired.
Burris says he needed an electronic version of the letterhead because, without one, he was forced to keep clients waiting while he walked across a large office to insert company letterhead into the printer. This ran the risk that someone else in the eight-adviser office would print documents before he could return to his desk in time to print his own. Had he agreed to sell more in-house products, Burris says, the bank would have given him an assistant to unburden him of administrative tasks like printing. JPMorgan did not immediately respond to questions about Burris' account of these events.
"There was no malice behind this," Burris says.
OSHA concluded the practice justified termination, but also described it as only "appearing to be a serious offense."
From page 10 of the OSHA decision:
According to [JPMorgan's] policy, employees were required to use approved letterhead with applicable disclaimers and not make misleading statements. However, [Burris'] letterhead materially altered these legal disclaims and thereby possibly exposed [JPMorgan] to potential liability. ([Burris'] additions are bolded and deletions are underlined.):
• "Securities and investment advisory services are offered through Chase Investment Services Corp. (CISC). CISC, a member of FINRA and SIPC, is an affiliate through Chase Investment Services Corp. (CISC)."
• Not FDIC Insured, No Bank Guarantee, May Lose Value, Not a Bank Deposit, Not Insured by any Federal Government Agency and Not a Condition of any Bank Loan, Product or Service.
Financial Planning reviewed other unaltered bank letterhead that contains substantially the same edits as outlined in the bullet points.
The OSHA finding concludes: "After [JPMorgan's] discovery of [Burris'] fake letterhead on March 3, 2013, [Burris] likely would have been terminated. At that point there would be clear and convincing evidence that [Burris' whistleblowing] played no part in his termination."
However, the day before the "routine audit" that discovered the letterhead, on March 2, 2013, The New York Times published the first story airing Burris' complaints. Elsewhere in the decision, OSHA describes Burris' decision to go public with his complaint to The Times as a "protected activity" under whistleblower protection laws.