Five agents wrongfully terminated by State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance were awarded $20 million by a Jackson County jury.
The five former individual contractors were left without jobs in January 2000 after they spoke out against the company's management and practice. The verdict, which the jury returned after five hours of deliberation, awarded $9 million in actual damages and $11 million in punitive damages.
There were several things going on in the mid to late '90s they felt were unfair to policy holders, said Norman E. Siegel, attorney for the plaintiffs.
During the mid 1990s, there were several verdicts and settlements in which State Farm was found to have treated policy holders unfairly in many different ways, according to Siegel.
In the fall of 1999, the five agents, Joseph J. Kelly, Tana Glockner, Michael Lee Morgan, Clifford F. Lykke and Lee P. Saghirian, often expressed concern that the company was not making its policy holders it first obligation. They spoke at a press conference in Washington D.C. and sent a letter to Sen. John McCain stating there was a need for a change in management.
At the three-week trial, Siegel said the presentation of State Farm's questionable actions during the 1990s damaged the defendant's case.
I think the avalanche of bad news following the verdicts and settlements convinced the jury. It was case after case with judges saying State Farm was cheating its policy holders, Siegel said. I think the jury viewed the agents as whistleblowers.
Also, State Farm's president, who makes the decisions regarding terminations, did not show.
The one who had to pull the trigger decided to stay in Bloomington, Siegel said. His deputies didn't get the job done in explaining their position.
The five plaintiffs had 115 years of collective experience with State Farm. Since 1957, Kelly, 82, operated an agency in Joplin, Mo.