Farmers Insurance Exchange will pay $225,000 to three former employees to settle a federal complaint over racial discrimination and retaliation at its Fresno claims office.
U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Ishii approved the settlement on Wednesday and it was announced Thursday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It stems from a complaint filed by the EEOC in 2013 on behalf of two Hmong employees who were terminated in 2009, as well as a third employee who was allegedly fired for testifying to the EEOC in its investigation.
The EEOC charged that prior to 2009, supervisors had instructed employees at Farmers’ branch claims office in Fresno to code payments to customers as partial payments as a way of avoiding negative customer service surveys. But a 2009 audit led to interviews of claims representatives over the partial-payment coding. Two Hmong representatives, Chia Xiong and John Yang, were later terminated, the EEOC alleged, while non-Asian employees who had also coded some cases as partial payments were retained by the company.
The EEOC complaint alleged that Farmers terminated two of its Asian employees for coding cases as partial payments “while retaining similarly situated non-Asian employees who had also coded cases as partial payments.”
After Xiong filed a complaint with the EEOC, a third employee, Jason Lowry, was interviewed by the federal agency in 2012 as part of its investigation. Within two weeks, Farmers questioned Lowry about his testimony to the EEOC, and the next day he was placed on leave. Six weeks later, Lowry was fired “due to his participation in the EEOC’s investigation,” according to the complaint.
Melissa Barrios, the EEOC Fresno office director, applauded the affected employees for coming forward with their experience with the company, “because oftentimes Asian and Pacific Islander communities are reluctant to complain.”
Under the terms of the settlement, Farmers does not admit any liability or wrongdoing.
In addition to the financial terms covering lost wages as well as damages for emotional distress, the consent decree requires Farmers to assign a monitor to its Fresno claims office to ensure compliance with federal fair employment laws, train supervisors and human-resources officers about the law and train employees about their legal rights.
“We commend Farmers Insurance Exchange for agreeing to make changes that will ensure compliance with federal law,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles district, whose territory includes Fresno.