An attorney representing a woman suing Farmers Insurance for discriminatory practices filed a motion in mid-October seeking class action status in a suit she says could potentially encompass 300 female attorneys.
The attorney also added five new women to the suit, bringing the total to nine former or current Farmers attorneys involved in the case.
Lori Andrus of Andrus Anderson LLP and Lori Costanzo of the Costanzo Law Firm are representing the plaintiffs.
Andrus is seeking to notify all female attorneys who worked for the Los Angeles-based carrier from June 8, 2012, until now of the option to opt-in to the class action suit.
“If we win that motion we’re going to send notice out to all the female attorneys across the country to opt-in,” Andrus said.
According to Andrus, Farmers has employed more than 800 attorneys over the last few years, roughly 300 of whom have been women.
“We think it’ll be hundreds of women,” she said.
The suit accuses Farmers of unlawfully paying its female attorney-employees significantly lower wages than male attorneys doing the same work.
The suit states: “Farmers does not reward its female attorneys equally compared to their male counterparts performing equal work. Instead, Farmers systematically pays female attorneys less than similarly-situated male attorneys.”
Not only are male attorneys paid more, but they are also routinely given higher profile work assignments, more frequent raises and promotions and are recognized for their accomplishments while female attorneys are not, according to the suit.
“In general, Farmers advances the careers of its male attorneys more quickly while treating its female attorneys more like support staff,” the suit states.
A Farmers spokesman reached for a response to the allegations made in the suit declined to comment.
This is not the first time a carrier has been sued by female employees. A settlement in 1992 was made in a broad ranging, and long-fought a sex discrimination case against State Farm Insurance Co. for a reported $157 million.
The lone plaintiff on the Farmers suit was originally Lynne Coates, who Andrus said was paid less than male counterparts who had “decades less” experience that her.
Three women opted-in on the suit in late summer. They are Angela Storey, who worked at Farmers for eight years, and current employees Keever Rhodes, who has worked at Farmers for 13 years, and Sandra Carter, a Farmers’ employee for 17 years.
Former employees also added to the suit are: Michele Morgan, Chiquita Hartman, Serena Neves, Karen Wasson and Stephanie Torigian.
“Companies that pay women less than male counterparts are basically getting cheap labor,” Andrus said.
Andrus argued that not only have those women been cheated out of years of wages, but other benefits that are wage-based, such as yearly bonuses, retirement and Social Security.
“So it really can build up,” Andrus said.
The case was filed as a proposed class action in April, and the filing of the recent motion seeks to have U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh certify the plaintiffs’ Equal Pay Act claims.
Andrus said she plans to call in a labor economist to perform what she called a multiple regression analysis, which she said will isolate all compensation factors besides gender – education, geographic location, years on job – to figure out what gap remains and calculate the damages that will be sought.
“According to our statistics, the only reason is gender,” Andrus said of the alleged pay discrepancy.
A protective order in the case prevents the pay of those involved from being made public.
According to the suit, paying female attorneys less than male counterparts has been the practice of Farmers since the 1970s.
The suit cites a previous lawsuit, this one brought by the Secretary of Labor against Farmers for unequal pay in the mid-1970s in Marshall v. Farmers Ins. Co., Civil Action No. 75-63-C2, in the U.S. District Court of Kansas.
That suit found Farmers’ salary policy to be discriminatory by excluding women from promotion, among other things.
According to the April suit, on Aug. 17, 2014, Coates filed a discrimination complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and on Aug. 21 the DFEH issued a right to sue notice. On Sept. 10, 2014, Coates filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discrimination and retaliation on the basis of sex. She received a right to sue notice from the EEOC on April 15.
The lawsuit is Coates v. Farmers Group, Inc., et al., Case No. 5:15-cv-01913 (N.D. Cal.).
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