Conciliation efforts between Allstate Insurance Co. and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) broke down in January. As a result, it's likely that either the EEOC, or agents who have filed complaints with the EEOC, eventually will sue the Northbrook, Ill.-based carrier.The talks were the result of the determination issued by the EEOC last fall finding that Allstate had unlawfully retaliated against its employee agents under equal employment laws the agency oversees by requiring its agents to sign a release and waiver in order to be retained as independent contractors or to receive certain benefits.

Allstate announced in November 1999 that it would reorganize its agency force-which then numbered 15,000-under a single independent contractor program. As part of that move, it terminated the employment of its 6,500 employee agents, and offered them the choice to sign the release and waiver to convert to independent contractor status or to receive enhanced severance benefits.

Agents retaliate

Approximately 3,900 agents chose to remain with Allstate as independent contractors; the remaining 2,600 left the company-either converting and selling their books of business or taking severance packages. Allstate did not have numbers on how many agents taking a severance package refused to sign the release and waiver.

More than 300 current or former Allstate agents have filed complaints with the EEOC against the carrier for retaliation and age discrimination. The EEOC declined to comment on the case, but according to a letter issued by Lynn Bruner, EEOC district director in St. Louis, the talks ended because Allstate was "unwilling to provide relief that (the agency considered) to be essential to curing the harm created by the violation."

The release and waiver stipulated that the agents would not sue Allstate for discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

"We are disappointed," says Allstate spokesperson Michael Trevino. "We do not know when (the EEOC) will advise us what the next step in their deliberations will be. We worked very hard to make sure that the reorganization provided a more than fair and equitable arrangement for agents."

Ron Harper, an Allstate agent in Thomson, Ga. disagrees. "We were fired. And not only were we fired, we were mandated to sign a release. 'Sign this or leave.' Then we were redeployed doing exactly the same job, only now we don't have benefits."

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