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/

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/

 

Former Farmers Insurance Adjuster Speaks Out

Having first hand experience as a property adjuster with farmers insurance for many years ( now with another company), I can tell you first hand that farmers adjusters were told to tighten up there approvals on wind and hail claims specifically in 2010 & 2011 due to paying to much ($35 million) in 2009 on hail claims just in Illinois alone. They changed there guidelines to basically only pay the worst of the worst damages while bringing in engineers to brain wash their staff into truly believing they were denying wear and tear damages that were true storm damages that should have been covered under the claim and insurance. Since 2011 farmers has now taken an easier approach but through 2013 when I left they were still denying storm damages due to inexperienced adjusters and also overseeing supervisors that would scold their employees for paying to much and being to easy going on approvals. If you truly want your claim accurately paid, file a home office or dept. of insurance complaint and farmers will send out a second adjuster and accurately pay your claim as they fear lawsuits and complaints. Depending on what adjuster you get you will get different claim handling and guidelines. I do not want to name specifically the adjusters who are the toughest on approvals but you will clearly know when talking to them initially or your contractor will know before they get there as they have probably met them in the past. The toughest adjuster for approvals works the northwest area, ie Rockford, crystal lake, Algonquin etc just as a heads up. To piggyback off other posts our catastrophe teams job is to come in give you some money to hold off for the short term. They are severely under trained in handling anything other than wind or hail claims, they do not know all the different state guidelines and will severely short you finds for repairs. I highly suggest requesting a second adjuster if you get one of these adjusters showing up at your house as they will short you money and even screw up coverage on your claim. Not to drag this out but compared to my new company farmers is a joke not only in promoting under experienced people to power positions to make important decisions in the company but also there staff, guidelines ( repairing things against industry standards) and treatment of their policyholders.

 

Source: Farmers Insurance Adjuster

Farmers Insurance Group racially abuses employees?

Plaintiff, Goodluck Onyeneho, was racially abused,
harassed by Farmers Insurance Group and by the following employees at Farmers: Farmers Insurance Group; Dana Johnson, Brandon Christopher; and Deborah Madden at Defendant’s place of employment, known as agency point, Farmers training facility in Owens Mills, Maryland, where defendant’s, directed and controlled the agent’s
training programs

For more info see GOODLUCK VS FARMERS LAWSUIT

  • This site is published as a public service to warn consumers of the business practices of Farmers Insurance Group. This site is in no way affiliated, connected with, or sponsored by Farmers Insurance Group or any of its subsidiaries. All content and information on this site is my opinion or the opinion of those referenced. This site is for educational purposes. The information in the Forums or from other people, blogs or web sites are provided at face value, we have not confirmed any of these stories/opinions. Copyrighted material has been used for non-commercial purposes only. By accessing this site you agree to immediately contact us to report any incorrect data or misrepresentations of facts. We are not responsible for accuracy in story content. Individuals, news organizations, companies or government agencies referenced on this web site do not endorse this web site and are not affiliated with it (copyrighted materials used without permission). Links to any other sites are for informational purposes only and should not be considered an endorsement of the site. Copyright 2015 - FarmersInsuranceGroupSucks.com - All Rights Reserved