Case Detail

Case Summary

Through the Eyes of a Whistle-Blower: How Sherry Hunt Spoke Up About Citibank's Mortgage Fraud

Case Number: 5-214-256, Year Published: 2014

HBS Number: KEL852

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Authors: Adam Waytz; Vasilia Kilibarda Funston

Key Concepts

Communication, Decision making, Ethics, Organizational culture, Reputations, Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Women in business


In 2011, Sherry Hunt was a vice president and chief underwriter at CitiMortgage headquarters in the United States. For years she had been witnessing fraud, as the company bought billions of dollars in mortgage loans from external lenders that did not meet Citi credit policy and sold them to government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs). This resulted in Citi selling to GSEs such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pools of loans that were considerably defective and thus likely to default. Citi had also approved hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of defective mortgage files for U.S. Federal Housing Administration insurance. After reporting the mortgage defects in regular reports, notifying and working closely with her direct supervisor (who was subsequently asked to leave Citi after alerting the chairman of the board to these issues) to stop the purchase of defective loans, leaving anonymous tips on the FBI’s and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s websites, and receiving threats from two of her superiors who demanded that she change the results of her quality control unit’s reports, the shy and conflict-avoidant Hunt had to decide who she should tell about the fraud, and how.

The case gives students the opportunity to recommend how Hunt should proceed based on their analysis of the stakeholders involved. To aid instructors, the case includes Kellogg-produced videos of Hunt—the only on-camera interviews she has ever given—explaining what happened after she reported the fraud to Citi HR and, later, the U.S. Department of Justice. Within the case, students are also briefly exposed to legislation and bodies pertinent to whistle-blowing in the United States, including the Dodd-Frank Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and the SEC Office of the Whistleblower.

This case won the 2014 competition for Outstanding Case on Anti-Corruption, supported by the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), an initiative of the UN Global Compact.

Learning Objectives

After reading and analyzing the case, students will be able to:

  • Analyze stakeholders’ motivations to prepare counter-arguments to the resistance one might encounter when reporting unethical behavior
  • Write a script for who to tell, how, and why
  • Discuss how incentive structures, management, and culture play roles in promoting or hindering ethical behavior in organizations
  • Identify behaviors that help a whistle-blower be effective
  • Gain experience resolving ethical dilemmas in which two values may conflict, such as professional duty and personal ethics

Number of Pages: 18

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Organizational Behavior

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: United States

Industry: Banking

Organization Name: CitiMortgage

Organization Size: Large

Decision Maker Position: Vice President and Chief Underwriter

Decision Maker Gender: Female

Year of Case: 2011