Denver insurance company to pay $20.5m settlement after discriminating against black and female employees

January 15, 2020 at 11:30 am | News

Francis Akhalbey

Francis Akhalbey | Staff Writer

January 15, 2020 at 11:30 am | News

Jackson National Life Insurance has agreed to pay a $20.5 million settlement to 21 complainants over accusations it discriminated against black and female employees in its Denver and Nashville offices.

In the complaint that was filed by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), Jackson reportedly promoted a hostile working environment for its female and African American employees, with the latter allegedly being labeled as “lazy” and subjected to racially demeaning cartoons. Stress balls were also allegedly thrown at them and a number of female African American employees were reportedly labelled as “resident street walkers” by a high-level manager.

According to the Denver Post, a male employee of Ethiopian descent was also subjected to clicking noises by other employees and a black female worker was reportedly told by a fellow employee to get on her knees while horizontally holding a bottle of vodka at a company party.

The terms and conditions of payment for female and African American workers were also allegedly discriminated against with the said group receiving meagre compensations and frequently being deliberately overlooked for promotion in preference for underqualified white male colleagues.

Employees who registered their displeasure with their treatment were subsequently reprimanded. For instance, a white vice president was fired after he declined giving a negative evaluation to two African American female workers who complained, the EEOC stated.

Under the settlement, the claimants will receive $15 million with another $5 million being used to cover attorney fees and costs, the Denver Post reports. This is the largest settlement ever reached by the EEOC’s Phoenix District and Denver Field Offices.

In addition to the settlement, Jackson has also agreed to a four-year consent decree where they would refrain from entertaining a discriminatory working environment. The company is also required to appoint an Internal Compliance Monitor, as well as, an outside consultant to “review its EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) policies, promotional and compensation practices and data, and future complaints of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation,” the EEOC stated.

Employees are also required to undergo discrimination, harassment, and retaliation training.

“We hope that the results in this case will send an important message to the financial industry that race and sex harassment and refusing to promote and pay employees based on sex, race, or national origin are illegal and will not be tolerated,” Mary Jo O’Neill, EEOC Phoenix District Office Regional Attorney said. “We are gratified that this decree will provide significant compensation to former Jackson employees whose careers were thwarted by these discriminatory practices. These former employees have been very brave to stand up for their rights.”

Amy Burkholder, director of EEOC’s Denver Field Office also added: “Over 50% of EEOC charges contain a retaliation allegation. In this case, one white employee refused to write up black employees who had complained about discrimination, and he was fired the next day. Employers should bear in mind that retaliation is as illegal as race and sex discrimination.”

A spokesman for Jackson National Life Insurance, Patrick Rich, told the Denver Post Thursday that they agreed to the settlement so as to “move forward.”

“While there has been no finding by a court or jury that Jackson violated any laws, we are humbled and recognize that the associates who made claims in this case believe they were not treated fairly or in a way that aligns with Jackson’s core values,” Rich said. “This is concerning to us, as it is not consistent with who we strive to be.”

Also speaking to the Denver Post after the settlement, O’Neill said she hopes “it sends a message to the whole financial industry.”

She added: “This is an industry where there are very well paying jobs and it’s long been the domain of white males. We hope this sends a message to the financial industry to take discrimination against people of color and women seriously.”

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