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Jackson National Life Insurance Co. and subsidiaries will pay $20.5 million to 21 former employees to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit that charged the company with race, national origin and sex discrimination, and retaliation, the agency said Thursday.
Lansing, Michigan-based Jackson said in a statement it does not tolerate discrimination or harassment.
The lawsuit against Jackson National, Jackson National Life Distributors LLC and Jackson National Life Insurance Co. of New York, which was filed in September 2016, charged the company had tolerated a work environment hostile to female and African American employees in its Denver and Nashville offices, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The lawsuit alleged that African-American employees were referred to as lazy, had stress balls thrown at them and were subjected to racially demeaning cartoons.
It said one high-level manager referred to multiple African American female employees as “resident streetwalkers,” and that female workers were subjected to sexual harassment.
It charged also that African American and female employees were paid less and regularly passed over for promotion in favor of less-qualified, white male employees.
The lawsuit said further that employees who filed discrimination complaints with the EEOC, and others who objected to the discrimination, were retaliated against, including a white vice president who was fired after she refused to give a negative evaluation and disciplinary warning to two African American female employees who had complained.
In addition to paying the $20.5 million in damages, attorneys fees and costs to the 21 former employees, under a consent decree the company will retain an outside consultant and train its employees on discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, among other provisions.
"We hope that the results in this case will send an important message to the financial industry that race and sex harassment and refusing to promote and pay employees based on sex, race, or national origin are illegal and will not be tolerated," EEOC Phoenix District Office Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill said in the statement released by the agency.
"We are gratified that this decree will provide significant compensation to former Jackson employees whose careers were thwarted by these discriminatory practices. These former employees have been very brave to stand up for their rights," she said.
The company said in its statement, “Jackson is strongly committed to providing equal opportunity to all employees. Jackson does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind, and we maintain and enforce high standards of conduct for how our associates interact with consumers, business partners and each other.
“These standards are reflected in policies, procedures and mandatory training we regularly review and enhance to ensure they are consistent with best practices and the law.
“Jackson chose to resolve this matter at this time as the best option to move forward for all parties. While there has been no finding by a court or jury that Jackson violated any laws, we are humbled and recognize that 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.
“This is concerning to us, as it is not consistent with who we strive to be. This experience provides an opportunity to re-affirm our commitment to our core values, enhance our policies and practices, and continue to make Jackson a great place to work.”