ARTICLE ID 28832
$________ INCLUDING $________ IN PUNITIVE DAMAGES - FRAUD - NEGLIGENT MISREPRESENTATION - BREACH OF CONTRACT - PLAINTIFF FORMER DISTRICT MANAGER FOR FARMERS' INSURANCE WRONGFULLY TERMINATED ALLEGEDLY DUE TO FAILING HEALTH - PUNITIVE DAMAGES CLAIMED BASED UPON EVIDENCE OF MALICE, OPPRESSION AND FRAUD.
Los Angeles County, California
The 59-year-old male plaintiff brought this action against the defendant
Farmers Insurance, alleging that his business relationship with Farmers,
for whom he worked on an independent contractor basis, was wrongfully
terminated in breach of contract. In addition, claims of fraud, malice
and oppression were asserted as to the defendants treatment of the
plaintiff during the period leading up to his termination.
The plaintiff worked as an independent contractor for Farmers Insurance
from ________ through March of ________, first as an agent and later as a
district manager. After two years of hard work as a highly successful
sales agent for Farmers, the plaintiff was recruited to become a district
manager for Farmers Insurance, finally accepting the position in January
of ________. He remained a successful district manager for Farmers, as
an independent contractor, until March of ________, when he was terminated
from his position on the basis that he allegedly "abandoned" his district.
As a district manager in Farmers Simi region, the plaintiff was responsible
for recruiting and training agents and served as an intermediary between
Farmers and its agents force. He was obligated to make his agents
profitable, to recruit new agents to fill positions as they became
available and to meet various production goals set by the company
for their district managers.
The evidence established that the plaintiff was highly successful
as a district manager, winning nearly every award given by Farmers
to the top performing district managers, including earning many vacations
and enjoying other kinds of performance recognition. In ________, after
the company was sold to the British American Tobacco Company, the
management operating in the plaintiffs region changed significantly,
with new people being brought in to enforce new rules and requirements
on district managers. The plaintiff was known to be outspoken, and
was often critical of management techniques, especially where it interfered
with what he believed were the rights of the insureds, the agents
or the district managers. The new management team began to question
the plaintiffs "failure" to be a "team player" and began to put pressure
on him to either change his techniques or to leave Farmers. Being
a successful district manager with a yearly income that exceeded $________
and being a proud individual, the plaintiff refused to step down.
Beginning in late ________, as the evidence established, the plaintiff
began suffering significant health problems, including requiring hospitalization
for a stress-related condition. The plaintiff contended that at all
times, he notified Farmers and their management personnel of his increasingly
fragile health condition. In ________, the plaintiff, under treatment
for stress, began to manifest signs of high blood pressure so severe
as to require medical intervention to stabilize the condition. Again,
the plaintiff advised Farmers management that his condition was worsening,
and that the amount of stress he was encountering from the company
needed to be modified. Instead, the pressure on the plaintiff was
increased, with harsh letters being regularly sent to the plaintiff
attacking his motives, his methods and accusing him of failing to
produce, when the facts indicated otherwise.
The plaintiff contended that he repeatedly informed the management
personnel that he was meeting his requirements and that his medical
condition was reaching the point that he was going to have to cut
back on the number of hours he was working because of the stress that
was being imposed. In spite of his increased requests for help from
Farmers, the plaintiff received neither sympathy nor support, but
on the contrary, was subjected to increasing pressure to resign or
leave his position.
The plaintiffs evidence established that he had never been informed
of the fact that in November of ________, an effort had been made to terminate
him, but failed because Farmers home office determined that there
were insufficient grounds for his termination. Again in ________, the
management above his direct supervisor attempted to terminate the
plaintiff without his supervisors knowledge, but again these efforts
failed, with management being rebuffed by both the Farmers home office
and their legal counsel, based upon a finding of insufficient grounds
for termination of the plaintiff.
In ________, the plaintiffs problems were compounded by the fact that
an earthquake, which destroyed his home, creating a personal crisis,
also placed significant pressure on him and his agents from a claims
standpoint. The plaintiff again indicated to his management that he
believed the techniques used to assist the companys insured were
inadequate. These comments from the plaintiff, included in a public
forum, were met with severe reprimand from management, including directives
that the plaintiff henceforth not speak at meetings and remain silent.
As a result of these actions, the plaintiffs medical condition became
more and more fragile. In April of ________, he was advised by his physicians
to turn the running of the district over to his wife, who had worked
in his office for many years, and the plaintiff attempted, as best
he could, to remove himself from the stress of the position.
Again, these events were made known to Farmers management. Despite
their knowledge of his disability, and that he had applied for disability
benefits, Farmers management continued to contact people in the plaintiffs
district in an effort to determine the plaintiffs status and to put
additional pressure on him, according to the plaintiffs claims. The
plaintiff alleged that Farmers management refused to allow the plaintiffs
wife to attend Farmers meetings, although other staff members in assistant
positions to other district managers were allowed to attend the meetings.
Despite the fact that his district enjoyed better performance in ________
than it had in ________, another effort to terminate the plaintiff was
undertaken in October of ________. This time, the effort was successfully
accomplished based upon the argument that the plaintiff had "abandoned"
his district. The termination became effective March 5, ________.
The plaintiff contended that he was a loyal and producing district
manager for Farmers for 13 years, from ________ through ________. The plaintiff
alleged that he was fraudulently induced to become a district manager
through various promises, including that he would be able to run his
own business without interference; that he could set his own hours;
and that as long as he continued to produce, he would not be terminated
from his position. The plaintiff signed a contract which indicated
that he could be terminated without cause with 30 days notice. Upon
signing this contract, the plaintiff alleged that he asked the Farmers
management, who were suggesting that he become a district manager
at that time, about that provision in the contract. The plaintiff
testified that he was specifically informed that it was required by
the legal department, but that no one had ever been fired from a district
managers position without good cause. During the course of the trial,
this position was reiterated by members of Farmers management who
testified on behalf of Farmers, and was further demonstrated by the
actions of Farmers against the plaintiff. Despite the contract provision
stating that they could terminate him without cause, Farmers home
office as well as the legal department refused to terminate the plaintiff
in spite of the requests from management, because of insufficient
showing of a basis to terminate him.
The plaintiff alleged that he had been fraudulently induced into signing
the contract by Farmers assurance that if the plaintiff simply continued
to produce and did not violate one of the "six deadly sins," which
included fraud and embezzlement, he could not be terminated. Another
of the "six deadly sins" was "abandonment," which was not defined
in the contract, nor was it included as a specific term in Farmers
employment/personnel literature. The defendant chose to rely upon
the "abandonment" theory as the basis for the plaintiffs termination,
notwithstanding that the plaintiff, while in ill health, continued
to maintain contact with his agents and to produce for his district.
The evidence offered by the plaintiff additionally indicated that
the person placed in charge of supervising the plaintiff in ________ was
an individual with whom the plaintiff had experienced numerous conflicts
since ________. This individual was placed in the position of direct supervision
over the plaintiff and was primarily responsible for placing increased
pressure on the plaintiff during the period of ________ to ________, when
the plaintiff was most ill.
The plaintiff contended that these actions by Farmers, knowing of
the plaintiffs failing medical condition and knowing of his disability,
were undertaken with malice, oppression and fraud.
The defendants contended that they were completely within their rights
under the contract to terminate the plaintiff, citing the 30-day notice
provision permitting firing without cause. The defense further contended
that the plaintiff did, in fact, abandon his district, despite the
fact that his district was performing. In support of their abandonment
argument, the defense pointed to the plaintiffs failure to attend
meetings and his failure to contact his direct supervisor. The defendant
further maintained that no promises were ever made to the plaintiff,
and that the reason he was not terminated earlier was because Farmers
follows an unwritten policy of not terminating capriciously.
The plaintiff claimed damages based upon what his earnings would have
been had he remained an agent and not been induced to leave his agents
position, minus the income he would have received as a district manager.
The jury found that if he had remained an agent from the period of
________ to the present, that his earnings would have been $________,
from which was offset the earnings as a district manager of $________.
The net economic loss was found to be $________. In addition, the
jury found that due to the intentional actions of the defendants,
the plaintiff had suffered emotional distress in the amount of $________.
On the issue of punitive damages, the jury determined that Farmers
was responsible to pay $________.