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Company restructuring hit older workers, sales manager alleged

Amount:

$20,450,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Missouri

Venue:

Jackson County

Court:

Jackson County Circuit Court, 16th

Case Type:

Employment - Age Discrimination, Gender Discrimination

Case Name:

D.A. Miller v. American Family Mutual Insurance and John Bosman, No. 1416-CV02573

Date:

December 9, 2016

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Deborah A. Miller (Female, 57 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Dennis E. Egan; Popham Law Firm, P.C.; Kansas City, MO, for Deborah A. Miller ■ Kevin Baldwin; Baldwin & Vernon, LLC; Liberty, MO, for Deborah A. Miller ■ Eric Vernon; Baldwin & Vernon; Liberty, MO, for Deborah A. Miller

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Kurt Krueger; Ph.D.; Economics; Prairie Village, KS called by: Dennis E. Egan, Kevin Baldwin, Eric Vernon

Defendant(s):

John Bosman, 

American Family Insurance

Defense Attorney(s):

Jeffrey D. Hanslick; Littler Mendelson; Kansas City, MO, for John Bosman, American Family Insurance ■ Curtis R. Summers; Littler Mendelson; Kansas City, MO, for John Bosman, American Family Insurance ■ Kyle A. Kitson; Littler Mendelson; Kansas City, MO, for John Bosman, American Family Insurance

Facts:

In 2012, plaintiff Deborah A. Miller, 57, an insurance sales manager for American Family Insurance, was fired. She claimed that it was based on her age and gender. Her supervisor was John Bosman. Miller sued Bosman and American Family Insurance for age and gender discrimination. Bosman was dismissed by Miller at the close of all evidence and before the case was submitted for final argument to the jury. Miller claimed that from 1997 to 2008, she was a captive sales agent until she was promoted to an agency sales manager where she oversaw 25 sales agents until her firing in 2012. Miller claimed that she was awarded bonuses for meeting and/or exceeding production goals. Miller claimed that in 2012, she was fired from the agency sales manager position and forced to start over as a sales agent. Plaintiff's counsel argued that Miller was demoted as part of corporate restructuring to eliminate older employees. Counsel argued that Miller was an exemplary employee who exceeded required expectations. Bosman wanted her out and demanded that she persuade older agents to retire, she claimed. Miller refused to abide by this directive and was put on a performance improvement plan despite her high ratings and evaluations, according to plaintiff's counsel. Plaintiff's counsel contended that Miller was told by Bosman that she lacked "leadership skills" and a "critical eye," in addition to the fact that she "could not have the hard conversations with her agents." Bosman gave Miller an ultimatum to either quit or return as a sales agent, she claimed. At trial, internal human resources documents were admitted into evidence that stated, "there is an undertone in Missouri in comparison to other states ... that women are not treated equally with the men. The recognition and opportunities are very limited for women but not so for the men." It also stated that, "there is pressure for women [managers] to look 30 years old." The court ruled these to be admissions by American Family Insurance. Defense counsel denied that Bosman made these statements to Miller. Counsel argued that the effort was not about persuading older agents to retire, but instead was to persuade complacent agents either to make changes to grow their businesses or to leave. Defense counsel contended that American Family Insurance does not discriminate against its employees. The company claimed that Miller's previous supervisor and Bosman recommended that Miller return to her position as a sales agent because it was a better fit for her. It further argued that Miller did not follow this recommendation and asked to go through the performance improvement process.

Injury:

Miller sought recovery for past and future loss of earnings, emotional distress and punitive damages.

Result:

The jury awarded $20.45 million.

Deborah A. Miller: $450,000 Personal Injury: Future Lost Earnings Capability; $20,000,000 Personal Injury: punitive damages

Trial Information:

Judge:

Patrick W. Campbell

Demand:

$500,000

Offer:

$100,000

Trial Length:

2  weeks

Trial Deliberations:

1  days

Jury Vote:

10-2 for $450,000 in compensatory damages and 9-3 for $20,000,000 in punitive damages.

Jury Composition:

6 male/ 6 female

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information provided by plaintiff's and defense counsel.