Farmers Insurance will pay a high price for discriminating against its female attorneys

Federal District Judge Lucy Koh had some very picky questions Thursday about terminology used in a multimillion-dollar settlement hammered out between Farmers Insurance and the hundreds of female attorneys it has underpaid for years.

I wasn’t expecting fireworks, exactly, but I thought things would be a little more lively for a case that could have a major effect on companies that, even unwittingly, pay men more than women for the same work.

Despite the technical questions coming from the bench, at least one person in the courtroom was absolutely riveted: Lynne Coates, a former Farmers attorney who discovered during a casual work conversation two years ago that a male colleague with less experience was earning more than she. Not too much later, she also found out her male litigation partner was being paid twice her salary — $185,000 versus $99,000. The man could hardly be considered more experienced than Coates; he earned his law license a year after she earned hers.

Coates, 50, complained to her manager, who responded by effectively demoting her, giving her work more suited to a paralegal than an experienced trial attorney.

It was embarrassing and humiliating,” she told me last year. “My job was taken away from me.”

She quit and filed a lawsuit, alleging Farmers had broken state and federal discrimination laws. Within months, nearly 300 female attorneys joined the class-action lawsuit. Nearly 200 of them are current Farmers attorneys.

Farmers has agreed to pay $4 million. As lead plaintiff, Coates will receive at least $85,000.

But more important, the company has also agreed to an impressive series of reforms, including increasing the number of women attorneys in its higher salary grades.

Also, for a period of three years, a company official will monitor compliance with the agreement, provide diversity training to attorneys and give progress reports to San Francisco attorney Lori Andrus, who represented Coates and the other plaintiffs, along with San Jose attorney Lori Costanzo.

“An excellent agreement,” Koh said.

“This is a substantial victory, and a good model going forward,” said UC Hastings law professor Joan Williams, an expert on workplace gender issues.

I wondered if three years was enough time to reverse decades of subtle workplace discrimination.

Andrus said she was pleased.  “We think it’s plenty of time for them to really, really clean up their act,” she said.

In the end, the case boiled down to a battle of statistics.

Farmers wanted to compare attorneys in small, individual branch offices, which Andrus and Costanzo resisted.  “If you look just at their San Jose office, which employs eight attorneys, it’s such a small number that comparing them makes it difficult to draw any conclusions,” she said. But when the salaries of Farmers attorneys all over the country were compared, Andrus said, “the wage gap quadrupled.”

Not surprisingly, greater disparity occurred at the higher salary grades. Perhaps the male attorneys in those grades had more experience than their female counterparts?  To control for that, Andrus and Costanzo looked at the dates each attorney passed the bar as a measure of experience.

“We found that women were much more likely to be in a lower salary grade,” Andrus said, “regardless of bar date.”

So although women and men were both hired into lower salary grades, women basically got stuck there.

“It’s not that women were being demoted,” Andrus said. “But a man would get groomed and promoted. Basically, there is male favoritism, which is probably unintentional. It’s a vestige of the good old boy network.”

Increasingly, employers are recognizing that pay gaps may be unintentional, but are unmistakably real.

Last year, the San Francisco-based tech giant Salesforce awarded $3 million in raises after discovering, through a voluntary salary analysis, that it had a gender wage gap. “We did find quite a few women who were being paid less than men and we’ve made that change,” Chief Executive Marc Benioff told CNN. “With just the push of one button, every CEO in the world can know exactly what is their pay discrepancy between men and women, and I hope that every CEO pushes that button.”

That would be nice.

“If we see more and more of these audits,” said California Democratic state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, “I think we are going to see major shifts.

Jackson co-authored a new state law, the California Fair Pay Act, that has been described as “one of the most aggressive” equal pay laws in the country. It was incorporated into the Farmers lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs who still work at the company.

One reason the law has been hailed as a breakthrough is that it requires companies to pay employees equally for work that is substantially similar — not exactly the same. That is a critical twist.

“The pay scale for a janitor in a hotel is greater than a housekeeper,” Jackson said. “Why is that? The work is substantially similar, and yet most janitors are men, most housekeepers are women.”

The law also shifts the burden of proof. Bosses are now required to show that a wage differential is the result of a bona fide factor like education, training or experience, not sex.

In the court hallway after the hearing, Coates was beaming. “I feel good,” she said. “The changes that Farmers has agreed to implement are going to make such a difference for the women in the company, and that is what this is all about.”

Maybe so. This year, Andrus said, Farmers gave unscheduled raises of $10,000 to $13,000 to female attorneys who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

It’s a start. But barely.

robin.abcarian@latimes.com
Source: http://www.latimes.com/

Farmers Insurance would refund $84.4 million under Texas settlement

AUSTIN — A judge has tentatively approved a settlement between Farmers Insurance and the state that would resolve a long-running lawsuit alleging massive overcharges by the company in its homeowners policies more than a dozen years ago.

State District Judge Scott Jenkins of Travis County said Thursday that he would sign an order approving the settlement, which calls for refunds to Farmers customers of $84.4 million.

That comes on top of a 6.8 percent reduction in homeowners rates already implemented, for a total settlement of $127.5 million.

“I would like to get this done,” Jenkins said of the case, which has been in the courts since late 2002. That’s when Farmers and the Texas Department of Insurance first negotiated a settlement to state allegations against one of the largest property insurers.

Texas Insurance Commissioner David Mattax called the agreement “a significant step toward returning funds to deserving Farmers customers.” But consumer groups attacked the proposal as a giveaway to Farmers.

“This deal lets Farmers pocket millions of dollars in overcharges without paying interest on its wrongfully collected premiums,” said Alex Winslow of Texas Watch, which closely follows insurance issues. “The bottom line is that Farmers customers are left holding the bag.”

Winslow said the agreement “lets Farmers off the hook for millions in excessive premiums.” Testimony during two days of hearings that concluded Thursday indicated that while Farmers overcharged policyholders by 12 percent to 18 percent, the settlement required it to return only 6.8 percent.

Mattax said during the hearing that he was unable to secure a larger refund from Farmers during the negotiations.

Farmers does not admit wrongdoing under the settlement, and company officials indicated they wanted to resolve the case after several years in court.

As many as 1.8 million current and former Farmers policyholders could be affected by the settlement, but no refund checks or premium credits will be issued before a “final fairness” hearing in the class action case on Feb. 1. Three intervenors in the case are opposed to the settlement and indicated they will raise objections during that hearing.

Policyholders who are affected were given less comprehensive policies in the wake of the mold crisis that rocked the Texas home insurance market more than a decade ago. Premiums on those policies were not decreased to reflect the reduced coverage, according to the state.

Other affected customers were not given premium reductions for discounts they were entitled to. Still other policyholders paid excessive premiums for auto and home insurance because of inaccurate credit reports used by the company.

Credit reports are used by most insurers in determining premiums their customers pay.

The case was the first class action insurance lawsuit ever filed by the attorney general’s office. Farmers countersued, insisting it did nothing wrong.

However, late in 2002, Farmers conceded and agreed to a package of refunds, rate reductions and premium credits that was similar to what Judge Jenkins approved Thursday.

Follow Terrence Stutz on Twitter at @t_stutz.

Source: dallasnews.com

Farmers Insurance Employee Gets 180 days in jail

A Bayport woman who admitted to stealing $132,000 from her Stillwater employer has been sentenced to 180 days in jail, plus restitution and 20 years probation.

Carol Greethurst, 52, was sentenced by Judge Mary E. Hannon March 26. Insurance covered a portion of the loss, and Greethurst is required to pay $127,000 in restitution. If she successfully completes probation, the felony will be reduced to a misdemeanor on her record.

The sentence represents the maximum penalty Greethurst could receive under the plea agreement she reached with prosecutors last year. Fred Fink, criminal division chief of the Washington County Attorney’s Office, said the sentencing guidelines called for a probationary sentence based on the circumstances and Greethurst’s history.

On Nov. 17, 2014, Greethurst pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft by swindle of more than $35,000. According to the criminal complaint, Greethurst used her position as accountant at Farmers Insurance on Curve Crest Boulevard to embezzle funds between January 2010 and July 2013.

Kathy Schoenborn-Atkins of Farmers Insurance said she discovered the theft while Greethurst was on vacation around July 4, 2013. Schoenborn-Atkins said Greethurst had worked for the family-owned business more than 10 years. Upon discovery of the alleged thefts, Greethurst was dismissed from the company.

Schoenborn-Atkins said the sentence seemed “kind of a small price to pay” for the difficulty Greethurst caused.

“It was tough for me and my business,” Schoenborn-Atkins said. “I ended up at one point having to lay people off.”

With the theft halted, Schoenborn-Atkins said her business has recovered, and she is pleased the court case is over.

“I’m just relieved that it’s coming to a close so I can move past it,” she said.

According to the criminal complaint against Greethurst, Stillwater police hired a certified national examiner to investigate the claims. Through forensic analysis, the investigator concluded Greethurst had swindled the company by:

• Adding a total of $48,217.24 unauthorized payments to her checks.

• Using false reimbursements through payroll withholding in the amount of $34,316.52.

• Paying $40,601.94 in personal expenses from the company’s bank account.

• Obtaining $7,308.26 from a company line of credit.

• Using company funds to pay for $638.70 in personal auto insurance costs.

Greethurst’s attorney did not return a call for comment.

Source: http://stillwatergazette.com

Farmers Insurance gets worst rating for Renters Insurance

According to the JD Powers 2014 U.S. Household Insurance Study, Farmers Insurance got the WORST rating they could get for Renters Insurance in the following categories:
Overall Satisfaction
Policy Offerings
Price
Billing and Payment
Interaction

To top it off Farmers Insurance had the WORST Customer Satisfaction ranking of all the insurers.

2014-farmers-Insurance-rating

Source:http://ratings.jdpower.com and http://www.jdpower.com

 

Farmers Insurance gets worst rating for Homeowners Insurance Claims

According to the JD Powers 2014 U.S. Household Insurance Study, Farmers Insurance got the WORST rating they could get for Homeowners Insurance CLAIMS.

homeowners_insurance_claim

Source: http://ratings.jdpower.com

Farmers Insurance gets worst Auto Insurance ratings for 2014

In the JD Poj-d-power-logower 2014 U.S. Auto Insurance Ratings Farmers Insurance got the WORST rating it could get in the following categories:
-Overall Satisfaction
-Policy Offerings
-Price
-Billing and Payment
-Claims

auto collision

Source: http://ratings.jdpower.com

 

21st Century Insurance Gets Worst Rating from Temkin Group

According to the 2015 Temkin Experience Ratings, an annual customer experience ranking of companies based on a survey of 10,000 U.S. consumers, 21st Century Insurance had the WORST ratings for the 5th year in a row!  Five years in a row?  Is it a coincidence that Farmers Insurance Group bought temkin-group-logo21st Century in 2009?  It didn’t take them long to run this business into the ground in regards to customer service and experience.  21st Century Insurance was also one of the three companies that declined by most percentage-points between 2014 and 2015!!

To generate these ratings, Temkin Group asked 10,000 U.S. consumers to evaluate their recent experiences with a company across three dimensions: success (can you do what you want to do?), effort (how easy is it to work with the company?), and emotion (how do you feel about the interactions?). Temkin Group then averaged these three scores to produce each company’s Temkin Experience Rating.

Source: http://www.prnewswire.com/

Texas Commissioner Files Revised Farmers Insurance Refund Settlement

On the heels of a recent multi-million dollar refund agreement with the state’s largest homeowners insurer, Texas Department of Insurance Commissioner David Mattax announced a revised settlement with the second largest homeowners insurer, Farmers Insurance, stemming from a 2002 lawsuit by the state against Farmers.

The settlement now goes before a Travis County District Court for approval.

The settlement, which amends a prior agreement, will enhance benefits to Farmers policyholders who fall within the settlement class.

As part of the settlement in 2002, Farmers provided a 6.8 percent homeowners rate reduction that has already been received by its policyholders. An additional $74.38 million in refunds has been increased by $10 million to account for the passage of time.

Under the terms of the agreement, eligible Farmers policyholders will receive a total of $84.38 million in refunds.

“This is a significant step toward returning funds to deserving Farmers customers,” said Commissioner Mattax in a departmental release.

He also noted the recent settlement with State Farm Lloyds totaling $352.5 million in refunds. Taken together, the two settlements provide for almost $437 million in refunds to certain Texas insurance consumers.

Source: http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southcentral/2015/03/10/359968.htm

Farmers Insurance Reviews 2015

Farmers Insurance rated worst, as usual.  -Admin

“We have had Farmers car insurance and roadside assistant. My husband’s was travelling from LA to bay area and car broke and brakes failed on I5 north near grapevine while coming down on the mountain. Even the emergency brakes did not work. I called Farmers insurance and told about the situation. They kept asking questions for 1 hour and very slow in response. For example on telling what exit I am, the person was not able to locate the exit while I found online and told where the exist is exactly.
Car is out of control and she is asking where we want to take the car…. On telling nearest car repair shop, she took 10 minutes to find the nearest shop and again did not find the info that the shop is opened or closed since it was Sunday evening. I told, “Why don’t you send the roadside assistance” and meanwhile we decide where to take the car. She did not agree and asked me harassing questions for more than an hour. Finally my husband hit the car against the curb/divider again and again and stopped it.
The roadside assistance came after 3 hours. It was just very horrible, very frustrating. They do not understand the situation… They understand only money taking and maybe wait till the car does meet an accident so they can put fault on drivers. Very horrible. We were so scared, afraid and frustrated that day.. Cannot tell. Never go with Farmers.” Jan 2015

“I had my car under a canopy carport and a very bad windstorm came through the the carport, damaged my vehicle. I went to a Farmers Insurance Reviews 2015reputable auto body repair shop and received an estimate for $3,600. The Farmers adjuster came to my house and said that the damage wasn’t that severe and left me with a check for $1,400. I thought I had a $500 deductible, not $2,200. I’m very upset about this and I’m considering getting a lawyer. This guy doesn’t own or operate an auto body repair shop, but he thinks he’s qualified to disagree with the professionals.” Jan 2015

“Agent was sent email on new vehicle didn’t issue auto insurance until 3 weeks later but no backdated to the date of email. I forwarded the email from my sent box.. He said “I won’t accept it”??????? So how do I prove he accepted a later email on another car. How can I trust the “Insurance Agent” misplace emails or phone calls? Your “Vision Statement” seems to be just words. The Credit Union charged me for insurance which I had already and paid in full months earlier. It cost me $1710.00 plus interest. Besides agent has started insulting me because I changed insurance companies due to him not honoring the email sent to him but has accepted others prior and afterwards. Maybe this will get someone to help.” Jan 2015

“I was in a car accident while sitting at a red light. A guy hit me full speed and pushed me up under the car in front of me. I was hurt very badly in the accident and Farmers took me through a year’s worth of fighting sending me to their Dr where I had to get undressed. Then I had to go and sit for an hour while their attorney interrogated me for their client’s negligence. At the end of the day all I got was my hospital bills paid and 1000.00. I live in Oklahoma.” Jan 2015

“My daughter was hit by an impaired driver. Several physical therapy visits followed. The police report clearly identified the other driver as the at fault driver. Farmers immediately paid for the car loss at about 60% of the blue book value. They refused to pay the very low medical costs. We hired an attorney too late… our fault. Even our attorney lamented that Farmers is the worst insurance company in America. I had policies with them for more than six vehicles and they always refused claims unless I complained to my local rep. This company is pathetic and does not deserve to operate. AVOID THIS COMPANY AT ALL COSTS!”

“I had a 21st insurance policy for years, but they told me that they couldn’t cover my trucks now that they were work vehicles with my personal vehicle and I had to use Farmers to get coverage. Farmers insisted that I had to have separate policies and my insurance cost per year almost doubled (covering the same vehicles). I asked my GL insurer if they could give me a quote and not only could they include both personal and work vehicles on one policy it was about 3/4 of the cost. Naturally I switched over. With 21st if I was late in payment (contracting is not a steady check), they would terminate coverage, but farmers also sent a bill for additional cost and when I went to pay them 27 days after due date they already sent it to collections. Farmers as an insurer has been my worse experience with an insurance company I have dealt with in my 30 years of driving.”

“It’s very simple. At Farmers Insurance they will sweet talk you to hell. One of the worst I ever seen, for small fender bender, I mean Small. They will act like they are CIA agents. Every time you call them this is what you get: “WE ARE STILL INVESTIGATING THE ACCIDENT” (for almost 30 days). THEN IF THEY FIND THEM SELF CORNERED, SIMPLY THEY WILL CALL YOU RACIST. If you ask them “how long this investigation of yours will take”, this was what I got back as answer from Adjuster: “you are asking me to predict the future. Are you crazy, it takes what it takes.”

“I had a head-on collision and sustained permanent nerve damage to my neck. My UM policy limit was $100K and they offered $3k for pain and suffering. I had to sue my own insurance company to get a settlement. My agent took money from me for 22 years and when I really needed them, they said “sorry we can’t help you.” Do not think that low premiums will save you money in the long run. Look at the payout stats online for different companies before you buy. I have AMICA now and they have a good payout rating. That’s what insurance is for–to make it right when you need it. When you have a bad accident, it’s too late to expect all those promises they feed you at Farmers to be true. They aren’t! NEVER use Farmers.”

 

Source: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/

Age discrimination: Farmers Insurance company hit with $749,000 verdict

by Michael Futterman and Jaime Touchstone

A claims adjuster filed suit against Farmers Insurance when she was terminated after returning from a medical leave. A Fresno jury found that Farmers discriminated against the employee based on her age and failed to reasonably accommodate her disability. The jury awarded the employee $749,000, and she may be able to recover her attorneys’ fees as well.

Claims adjuster sues over termination

Farmers Insurance hired Sharron Warehime to work as a claims adjuster in its Visalia office. Warehime, who was 57, had more than 15 years of experience in the insurance industry. Initially, she received good to outstanding job performance ratings and was awarded various professional honors and accolades by Farmers.

Things at Farmers began to sour for Warehime after she was transferred to the company’s Fresno office. Following the transfer, she asked to handle her own caseload rather than working on cases assigned to other adjusters. Her supervisor obliged, allegedly assigning her the largest caseload in the office, including a previously fired coworker’s problematic files.

Overburdened, Warehime eventually requested help and a reduction in her caseload. In response, her supervisor acknowledged that she was responsible for a larger than usual number of files but didn’t reassign any of her work.
On top of the heavier workload, the Fresno office was staffed with younger employees who allegedly began directing ageist comments at Warehime, including “I don’t want to work when I’m your age” and “The old fuddy-duddy is coming in.”

Warehime complained. Her supervisor allegedly responded by conducting “case reviews” on her files, which culminated in Warehime receiving several “warnings” and being placed on probation. When she responded that the negative evaluation of her work was inaccurate and unfair, she was instructed to improve her performance.

The stress at work became so intense that Warehime allegedly suffered a mental breakdown and took a doctor-recommended leave of absence to undergo treatment for depression and anxiety. At the conclusion of her medical leave, her doctor cleared her to return to work, allegedly with a request that Farmers allow her to initially work a part-time schedule. The company didn’t respond to that request, and when she showed up for her first day back, a young man was sitting at her desk. Farmers had allegedly terminated her without notice.

Warehime sued Farmers for violations of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), including claims for age discrimination, retaliation, failure to provide reasonable accommodation, and failure to engage in a timely good-faith interactive process. After a five-week trial, the jury found that Warehime had been a victim of age discrimination and retaliation and that Farmers failed to accommodate her disability. The jury awarded her $749,000, which included damages for lost wages and benefits.

Warehime also filed a motion to recover her attorneys’ fees. That motion and Farmers’ posttrial motions for a new trial and judgment notwithstanding the verdict are set for hearing in January 2014.

Jury believed employee

The FEHA affords job protection to individuals who are 40 or older and prohibits the harassment of any employee or applicant based on age. Businesses that regularly employ five or more workers on a full- or part- time basis must comply with the FEHA’s antidiscrimination provisions and evaluate job applicants and employees on the basis of their abilities, not their age.

Employers with one or more employees may be held responsible for any acts of harassment committed by their agents and supervisors and are required to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent harassment on the basis of age. When a job applicant or employee is denied an employment benefit or is the victim of unlawful harassment based on age, the employer may be liable for age discrimination.

However, the FEHA does not insulate older workers from disciplinary action or performance standards administered equally to employees of all ages. Employers may terminate, discharge, demote, or otherwise discipline an employee who is 40 or older if she either fails to perform the normal functions of her job or conform to its legitimate business requirements.

In her lawsuit, Warehime contended that she was treated differently than other employees because of her age, and when she complained to her supervisor, she experienced retaliation through progressive discipline designed to lead to her termination. In response, Farmers argued that she was terminated because she didn’t embrace technology at work, rejected training to become a better employee, and blamed others for her problems when her workload backed up. Farmers also claimed she “low-balled” customers on their claims, leading to increased lawsuits against the company.

Ultimately, the jury believed Warehime when she asserted that she was a “committed team player and good with customer service” who participated in any required training and received positive performance ratings for the first three years of her employment.

Farmers failed to accommodate disability

The FEHA requires covered employers to accommodate an employee or applicant with a known physical or mental disability as long as the accommodation does not cause an undue hardship. In response to a request for an accommodation, covered employers must engage in a timely good- faith interactive process with the individual to determine if any effective reasonable accommodations are available.

Warehime allegedly suffered from work-related anxiety and depression, making her a qualified individual with a disability under the FEHA. She requested that upon her return from medical leave, Farmers allow her to work a part-time schedule as an accommodation for her mental health condition. Rather than granting her request, Farmers terminated her immediately upon her return from medical leave.

Warehime accused Farmers of failing to provide reasonable accommodation for her disability and failing to engage in a timely interactive process. The jury agreed, which likely contributed to the six-figure award. Sharron Warehime v. Farmers Insurance (Fresno County Superior Court, Case No. 08CECG02976).

Bottom line

Complaints of discrimination based on age and disability require a thoughtful response from employers. Firing an employee on the same day she returns from leave is rarely a good idea. The large jury verdict in this case suggests that Farmers acted in an overly aggressive manner without adequate appreciation for the legal and economic risks at stake.

Source: http://hr.blr.com/

 

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