As insurance carriers move forward to sell policies directly to consumers, they walk a precarious bridge between the Old Economy, where their agents dominated the distribution channel, and the New Economy where the Internet is now a player.When Allstate Insurance Co. announced its multichannel initiative last year, industry analysts applauded the company for taking this bold and necessary step to sell insurance online and through call centers, as well as through its traditional agent force. But some Allstate agents are not clapping as the company marches into the New Economy.That's because approximately 6,000 Allstate employee agents had to decide whether to become independent contractors or leave the company. About 2,000 agents opted to leave.

To make matters worse for the Northbrook, Ill.-based company, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in mid-September determined that the company violated the federal statutes the EEOC administers, after approximately 70 agents filed charges with the EEOC. The agents claim that the release and waiver they were required to sign to convert to independent contractor status amounted to retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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