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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 defendant’s 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 plaintiff’s 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 plaintiff’s "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 plaintiff’s 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 supervisor’s 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 plaintiff’s 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 company’s 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 plaintiff’s 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 plaintiff’s district in an effort to determine the plaintiff’s status and to put additional pressure on him, according to the plaintiff’s claims. The plaintiff alleged that Farmers’ management refused to allow the plaintiff’s 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 manager’s 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 plaintiff’s 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 plaintiff’s 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 plaintiff’s 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 agent’s 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 $________.

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