A Denver insurance company has agreed to pay $20.5 million to settle claims that it discriminated against Black and female employees.
Black employees at Jackson National Life Insurance claim they routinely were passed up for promotions and were paid less than their white colleagues, according to an EEOC complaint. The workers were not only subjected to a toxic work environment but also faced sexual harassment and dubbed “resident street walkers,” called “lazy”, among other slurs and insults. At a company party, one Black female employee was asked to get on her knees while holding a bottle of vodka.
The complaint, filed in September 2016, further accuses Jackson National Life of retaliating against those who dared to speak up about the ongoing abuse, reportedly firing a white executive who refused to pen a negative evaluation for two Black female employees who complained.
The Tennessee-based company is now under a four-year consent decree, court records show, and has been ordered to pay $20.5 million in attorney fees, damages and costs to the 21 complainants at its Denver and Nashville offices.
“While there has been no finding by a court or jury that Jackson violated any laws, we are humbled and recognize the associates who made claims in this case believe they were not treated fairly or in a way that aligns with Jackson’s core values,” said Jackson National Life spokesman Patrick Rich, calling the allegations concerning.
The agreement is believed to be the largest of its kind in the history of the EEOC’s Denver and Phoenix offices.
“I hope it sends a message to the whole financial industry,” EEOC regional attorney Mary Jo O’Neill told The Denver Post in a recent interview. “This is an industry where there are very well-paying jobs and it’s long been the domain of white males.”
O’Neill added she hopes it also “sends a message to the financial industry to take discrimination against people of color and women seriously.”
Jackson National Life Insurance said it agreed to the settlement in hopes of moving forward.
Under the terms of the consent decree, the company must “designate an Internal Compliance Monitor [and] retain an outside consultant to review its EEO policies, promotional and compensation practices and data, and future complaints of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.”
The firm also is required to train its employees on discrimination, harassment and retaliation.