LOS ANGELES – A 56-year-old Black Farmers Insurance sales agent is suing the company, alleging she has been subjected to racial discrimination by an insurer that preferred younger white and Latino employees.
Shelia Richards’ Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit allegations include race, age and gender discrimination as well as retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Richards seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
A Farmers representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit brought Friday.
Richards began working for Farmers in November 2016 after inheriting the Farmers agency of her late husband, Ronald Richards, through a living trust he had managed since 1989, the suit states.
Richards is one of Farmers’ top agents and has earned many accolades, including having the largest book of business in the Inland Empire and earning Farmers’ Blue Vase award, which is presented to a select group of employees who have demonstrated exceptional service and sales in the area of life insurance, the suit states.
But Richards frequently complained to Farmers management that she was being discriminated against and harassed, in part because of her age and race, the suit states. Richards alleges that Farmers wrongfully began transferring her “well-developed book of business” to younger, less experienced and less qualified sales agents, many of whom were either white or Latino.
She also advocated on behalf of others at Farmers who were subjected to some of the same alleged disparate treatment, according to her suit.
Farmers allegedly failed to pay Richards for commissions earned from her two books of business, the suit states.
When Richards told a supervisor she wanted to read an important document before deciding whether to sign it, the boss, who also is Black, replied, “That’s why I don’t like dealing with Black women, they always want to read stuff,” the suit states.
When Richards asked the supervisor in 2017 why he allegedly treated her without respect, the boss allegedly replied, “I don’t like Black women,” the suit states.
When Richards asked the supervisor why he treated his own people the way he allegedly did, he replied, “I don’t like Blacks,” the suit states.
Richards maintains she is a “whistleblower” because she allegedly suffered backlash for complaining about discrimination.
Although Farmers allegedly insisted in classifying Richards as an independent contractor rather than an employee, Richards was never “free from the control and direction of Farmers in the performance of her work,” according to the suit.
Farmers implemented a program ostensibly aimed to mentor new, younger sales agents that had an unfair impact on employees who were 40 years of age or older, the suit states. The younger agents in the program received business that previously belonged to older sales agents once they were forced out and/or discharged, the suit states.
In Richards’ case, Farmers transferred several clients to agents in the program without telling her even though she was still working for the insurer, the suit states.
As a result of Farmers’ alleged mistreatment, Richards, who at her peak was making close to $277,000 per year, now makes just under $190,000, according to the suit, which further alleges she has suffered severe emotional distress.