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Leeman v. Regions Insurance, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

March 28, 2019



          Robert L. Miller, Jr. Judge

         This ruling disposes of a summary judgment motion that has awaited ruling for an inexcusably long time. It is unusually difficult to get one's arms around the facts in this case, but no explanation or justification for so long a delay approaches reasonableness. The court can only offer the parties a sincere and embarrassed apology.

         Pamela Leeman sues her former employer, Regions Insurance, on a variety of theories for conduct connected with her employment by Regions as an insurance agent, or "producer". She was paid through commissions. Ms. Leeman is a female, was born in 1949, and ws more than 40 years old throughout her employment with Regions from 1996 to March 31, 2015. She sues Regions for sex and age discrimination, for discriminatory retaliation, and for violation of the Equal Pay Act, and for breach of contract. The court granted Regions' summary judgment on the contract claims (Counts 1 and 2) [Doc. No. 85], and, for the following reasons, grants its motion for summary judgment on all remaining claims (Counts 3-8) [Doc. No. 58].

         I. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, discovery materials, disclosures, and affidavits demonstrate no genuine issue of material fact, such that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Protective Life Ins. Co. v. Hansen, 632 F.3d 388, 391-392 (7th Cir. 2011). The court must construe the evidence and all inferences that reasonably can be drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to Ms. Leeman, the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). But inferences cannot be based only on “speculation or conjecture, ” Herzog v. Graphic Packaging Int'l Inc., 742 F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir 2014); Tubergen v. St. Vincent Hosp. & Health Care Ctr., Inc., 517 F.3d 470, 473 (7th Cir. 2008), and “the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-248 (1986) (emphasis in original); see also Dawson v. Brown, 803 F.3d 829, 833 (7th Cir. 2015). “[T]he requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Id. “A genuine issue of material fact arises only if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party exists to permit a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Egonmwan v. Cook County Sheriff's Dept., 602 F.3d 845, 849 (7th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks omitted).

         II. Background

         The following facts are taken from the summary judgment record and are viewed as favorably to Ms. Leeman as is reasonable.

         Ms. Leeman worked as an insurance agent for Regions and its predecessor, Miles & Finch, from 1996 until April 1, 2015, when she was terminated.

         From 2006 to April 2015, Ms. Leeman was compensated under an agreement that was executed while she still worked for Regions predecessor, Miles & Finch; but she remained an employee at will. Under the terms of Ms. Leeman's employment agreement, she received a portion of Miles & Finch's commission when a client purchased insurance from her - generally 35% on business she handled alone. Ms. Leeman also co-managed accounts with Brett Cain. She and Mr. Cain worked out a side agreement with Miles & Finch for those shared accounts under which they received a 50% commission and split the commission evenly.

         In early 2007, Regions purchased some of Miles & Finch's assets. Regions continued to employ several of Miles & Finch's agents, including Ms. Leeman (born 1949), Brett Cain (born 1961), Pierre Fox (born 1969), Douglas Heath (born 1955), James Iovino (born 1969), Richard Lemming (born 1947), William Martin (born 1970), Joseph Sandifer (born 1971), William Thatcher (born 1957), and Christopher Williamson (born 1968). The agents' job responsibilities and compensation structure were unchanged, and Ms. Leeman and Mr. Cain were allowed to continue their shared account arrangement.

         Regions President Mike Miles, who also worked as a producer, handled the reassignments of customers and accounts for Regions from 1996 until his June 2012 retirement. Ms. Leeman believes Regions' reassignments from one producer to another were unfair and discriminatory.[1] Regions says it reassigned accounts from a departing producer to a successor producer based on a variety of factors, such as whether a producer had a connection to the account or the first producer, whether a producer had particular experience with the account's industry, and whether a producer had contacts geographically near the account.

         Mr. Miles reassigned most of his accounts to his daughter, Jenny Fisher, when he retired. Ms. Leeman understood until 2013 that all of Mr. Miles's accounts had been reassigned to Ms. Fisher. When Mr. Miles was thinking about retirement in early 2012, he told Brett Cain (who shared accounts with Ms. Leeman) that he wanted Mr. Cain to take over Mr. Miles's Dilling Group Account in Logansport. Ms. Leeman handled nearly all the other accounts in Logansport. Mr. Miles told Mr. Cain not to mention the plan to anyone. Ms. Leeman didn't learn of the reassignment of the Dilling account and a related account to Mr. Cain until 2013, the year after Mr. Miles retired and after the accounts had generated $200, 000 in revenue for Mr. Cain. Based on his observations, Mr. Cain opined that Mr. Miles avoided women and found Ms. Leeman intimidating.

         Four of Mr. Miles's accounts related to the Kokomo schools were assigned to Phil Thatcher. Before that, Ms. Leeman had worked with Mr. Miles in servicing those accounts, and, she says, had a relationship with school officials. Mr. Thatcher hadn't been involved with these accounts or any other school accounts before receiving the Kokomo schools accounts.

         Ms. Leeman was never reassigned a retiring producer's account until just before her resignation. She had a few accounts reassigned from Mr. Miles in 2004, when he was still employed, but those accounts were reassigned to Mr. Miles's daughter, Jenny, in 2012.

         Regions began to make changes to the terms of compensation in 2012, when it reduced the rate of compensation on new co-managed/shared accounts from 25% to 17.5%.

         In 2013, Regions adopted what it called its "Verticals Program" to encourage partnering and sharing of information and resources between producers with familiarity in a specific industry. Producers with such familiarity were designated through the Verticals Program. A producer's participation in the program was entirely voluntary. Ms. Leeman asked to participate, but never got into the program. She says Regions Chief Operating Officer J.R. Martin told her in late autumn 2013 that a producer had to be nominated to gain access to the program. He asked her about her accounts in the medical field and told her she would be nominated because of her experience with medical accounts. As Ms. Leeman remembers it, Mr. Martin called her later to tell her that Regions President James Iovino had rejected her nomination in favor of Chris Williamson. Mr. Iovino testified that he didn't recall discussing Ms. Leeman and the Verticals Program with Mr. Martin. He said Ms. Leeman wasn't made a part of the program because she never volunteered. Ms. Leeman said at her deposition that she never told Mr. Iovino or any other "member of management" that she wanted to participate." Mr. Iovino also testified that as things turned out, participation in the Verticals Program didn't generate much extra business for the volunteers.

         At this stage, the court must credit Ms. Leeman's telling of the events, so the court accepts that Ms. Leeman told the COO she wanted to participate and either the COO kept her wish to himself and told her than the President rejected her participation, or the President rejected her participation and didn't remember things accurately at his deposition. In either event, the court accepts that Ms. Leeman asked to participate, wasn't admitted into the Verticals Program, and was lied to by someone in Regions management. Chris Williamson, a younger man, was allowed into the Verticals Program.

         Regions introduced its "Producer Validation Program" around July 2013. Each producer had to generate at least $350, 000 to be a validating producer. Mr. Martin spoke with Ms. Leeman by phone a few times in 2013 about what she had to do under the program. In early 2014, Regions announced that it would terminate any producer not on track to be a validating producer that year. Regions identified five producers (including Ms. Leeman) as non-validated.

         The President and CEO of Regions Indiana, James Iovino, met with Ms. Leeman on March 11, 2014. He told Ms. Leeman she was below the threshold validation level. Ms. Leeman didn't know she was on the non-validated list until Mr. Iovino told her in March 2014. By Regions's calculations, Ms. Leeman was about $100, 000 below the validation threshold. Ms. Leeman disputed the numbers Mr. Iovino relied on, but agreed she was below the $350, 000 threshold.

         Mr. Iovino told Ms. Leeman that she would be let go if she didn't meet the threshold validation level, and offered her the option of retiring. Mr. Iovino told her that in light of the numbers, she would be terminated in July, or "your other option is you can go ahead and retire," in which event Mr. Iovino would try to get Regions to allow her to stay until the end of the year. Mr. Iovino ...

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