FDIC Watchdog Launches 2 Workplace Misconduct Inquiries

Republicans continue to demand FDIC Chair Martin Gruenberg’s resignation.
FDIC Watchdog Launches 2 Workplace Misconduct Inquiries
Martin Gruenberg, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in Washington on Nov. 15, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Andrew Moran
Following reports of workplace misconduct and a toxic work environment, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) will now face additional inquiries from the agency’s watchdog.

The FDIC’s inspector general’s office confirmed to The Epoch Times that it will perform a special inquiry into “the leadership climate at the FDIC with regard to all forms of harassment and inappropriate behavior.”

The inspector general will also assess the FDIC’s sexual harassment prevention program.

An official announcement will be made once planning is complete, an IG spokesperson noted.

The Epoch Times has reached out to the FDIC for comment.

Soon after The Wall Street Journal’s comprehensive reporting on workplace misconduct allegations, the FDIC launched an independent probe by the law firm BakerHostetler.

The FDIC also established a special panel to manage the third-party review of the regulator’s working climate. It will be co-chaired by FDIC director Jonathan McKernan and acting chair of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Michael Hsu.

“The FDIC board is committed to fostering an environment and culture that promotes a safe, fair and inclusive workplace for all FDIC employees,” said Mr. McKernan and Mr. Hsu in a statement. “The board supports taking all actions necessary to identify and address the root cause of the problem and to promote accountability.”

FDIC Chair Martin Gruenberg has confirmed that he will not have a role in overseeing the investigations.

House Republicans are also obtaining documents from the federal agency and requesting interviews.

The House Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee established an investigation, requesting the FDIC to share records of sexual harassment complaints within the agency and official responses to these submissions.

“The reports by The Wall Street Journal describe an abusive culture of sexual harassment and discrimination within the FDIC, and a lack of internal processes encouraging reporting and effective responses to such allegations,” wrote Ms. McClain and Mr. Biggs in a letter to Mr. Gruenberg.

In the wake of the reports, GOP representatives and senators are pressuring Mr. Gruenberg to resign. The calls for his resignation accelerated after his testimony that he had never been investigated for inappropriate behavior or participated in such conduct conflicted with media reports.

“Notwithstanding the toxic environment over which you presided in some leadership capacity over the last 18 years, your conflicting testimony in this week’s hearing before the Committee was alarming,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), House Financial Services Committee chair, in a letter co-authored by other GOP committee members.

In addition to his resignation, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) called for the individuals found guilty of misconduct to be given “serious consequences, including termination and criminal prosecution when warranted.”

“Angry and disgusted aren’t strong enough terms to describe my reaction,” Ms. Ernst wrote in a letter, adding that the appointment of a special committee was “too little, too late.”

The senator is now seeking records related to the “engagement of the custodial personnel for sanitizing public areas of the hotel contaminated with vomit or other bodily fluids.”

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) speaks at a Senate Republican news conference in the U.S. Capitol Building on March 9, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) speaks at a Senate Republican news conference in the U.S. Capitol Building on March 9, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Moreover, she is asking the FDIC special committee to share the information it collects with law enforcement officials.

“The civil servants these monsters abused are owed more than just an apology, they deserve justice,” Ms. Ernst concluded in her letter. “The women of the FDIC will not have justice until every perpetrator of criminal activity, past and present, receives a verdict from a jury of their peers … If you do not aggressively pursue each of the allegations and proactively share the findings with law enforcement, Congress, and the American people, I will. You can take that to the bank.”

Senate Banking Committee Democrats have not demanded Mr. Gruenberg to step down. Instead, they called on the FDIC’s inspector general to investigate the FDIC’s workplace environment.

‘Boys Club’ Culture

In The Wall Street Journal’s reporting, the office culture throughout the federal regulatory agency was described as a “boys club,” and that bank examiners who engaged in misogynistic behavior faced little consequences.

The harassment became so prevalent and intense that many women quit the FDIC. Additionally, there were internal criticisms that Mr. Gruenberg maintained a fierce temper and that he did nothing in response to complaints.

“Employees said bad workplace behavior has festered at the agency for years because top administrators didn’t fully address problems, whether in regional offices or in the Washington headquarters. When employees did raise such issues, they said they believed the agency swept the problems under the rug,” the newspaper reported.

There were also allegations of racism across the organization.

In Sept. 2018, an anonymous group of black employees expressed concerns to then-Chair Jelena McWilliams that they were mistreated and “afraid to speak out about the issues they are facing for fear of repercussions.”

In response to these grievances, the FDIC adjusted its promotion and ratings systems to rely more on merit.

In 2020, the FDIC’s then-IG published a detailed report providing 15 recommendations to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. Mr. Gruenberg said at a hearing earlier this month that the suggestions were implemented, but they failed to “change the culture.”
Andrew Moran has been writing about business, economics, and finance for more than a decade. He is the author of "The War on Cash."
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