The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing Farmers Insurance Exchange, alleging two Hmong employees were illegally fired by the company's Fresno office because of their race, and a third was then let go for participating in an ensuing EEOC investigation.
Filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Fresno, the discrimination and retaliation lawsuit says the two men were the only Asian-American employees working at the insurance company's Fresno office at the time of their March 2009 termination.
The EEOC alleges that a supervisor in the company's Fresno office told staffers to code insurance claim payments in a way that those receiving the money wouldn't be asked to take a customer survey. This was done, the EEOC said, by entering coding that showed the company had only made partial, not full, claim payments.
A subsequent company audit found that several claims representatives in the Fresno office had instances of improper coding. But the two Hmong employees -- Chia Xiong and John Yang -- and a third, Caucasian employee -- Jason Lowry -- had the highest number.
Xiong and Yang were fired after the audit, the lawsuit says, while Lowry, the Caucasian claims adjuster, wasn't.
Later, the EEOC started an investigation, and on June 5, 2012, Lowry talked to the federal agency. The next day, he was placed on leave and on July 18 he was fired "due to his participation in the EEOC's investigation," the suit says.
Farmers Insurance Exchange is part of Farmers Insurance Group. Company spokesman Mark S. Toohey said in an email: "We have not yet had a chance to review the complaint and, as such, we are not in a position to comment."
The EEOC said in a news release that the lawsuit was filed "after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process."
Though the EEOC is listed as the plaintiff in the lawsuit, it identifies Xiong and Lowry as the complaining parties.
The lawsuit seeks injunctions against Farmers prohibiting it from "disparate treatment of Asian individuals and any other employment practice which discriminates on the basis of race."
It seeks a similar injunction prohibiting the company from "engaging in retaliation."
In addition, the suit seeks to force Farmers to institute policies and programs that provide equal employment opportunities for Asians, as well as back pay, job search and other expenses and punitive damages for Xiong, Yang, "and other, similarly situated individuals."
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