State Farm Found Guilty of Sex Bias : Insurer Excluded Women From Agent Training, Court Holds
A federal judge found State Farm Insurance Co. guilty of sex discrimination Monday in its hiring of sales agent trainees in California, saying the giant company virtually excluded women from the lucrative jobs.
Only two of State Farm’s 1,454 agents in the state were women in 1974, and only 65 of 1,847--3.5%--were women in 1981, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson said.
He said the company maintained a “male image” through advertising and “discouraged and deterred women from applying.”
Guy Saperstein, the attorney who in 1979 filed a class-action suit on behalf of three female secretaries and office managers at State Farm, said the ruling would affect tens of thousands of women who had been rejected or deterred from applying since July, 1974, when the discrimination claim was filed.
Saperstein said that he expects Henderson to award at least $10 million in back pay to those women and that women hired during the next decade will, because of the ruling, gain hundreds of millions of dollars in pay and benefits.
Saperstein said he will ask Henderson to set a hiring quota until 40% to 50% of the company’s agents are women.
A three-month trial ended in April, 1983, and Henderson gave no reason for the delay in delivering his opinion.
State Farm attorney Paul Laveroni said he had not finished reading the 174-page ruling, but said, “Obviously, we don’t agree with his conclusions.” He said there was no credible evidence that women were deterred from applying.
State Farm’s agents are among the best-paid in the industry. After a two-year training period, agents averaged $36,000 in their first year and $54,000 in their fourth year, according to 1981 figures quoted by the judge.
Henderson said State Farm kept women off its sales force in a variety of ways.
“Women have been told about educational requirements that did not exist . . . and (given) false information with respect to availability of positions,” he said.
Secretaries, some of whom sold insurance in their offices, were told they were too valuable in their jobs to become agents, Henderson said. He said women also were told the jobs were too dangerous.
Of the three women who filed suit initially, two--Muriel Kraszewski of Los Angeles County and Daisy Jackson of Santa Clara County--were told that State Farm did not hire female agents, Henderson said. Jackson later became an agent trainee but was fired after missing some work because of a serious illness, a standard not applied to men, Henderson said.
Both women are now agents for Farmers Insurance Group. The third woman, Wilda Tipton of Ventura County, is still a State Farm office manager.