A claims adjuster’s comments about “homeys” and “you people” when talking to a South Chicago property owner were enough to merit further proceedings on a discrimination claim against State Farm Fire & Casualty Co.
However, several counts that alleged a broader discriminatory policy were dismissed in a decision last week by the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois.
The district court upheld claims filed by Darryl Williams and his real estate company, The Connectors Realty Group Corp., against State Farm. The court dismissed allegations made in the same lawsuit by property owner Antoine Nash. The court also refused to consider statistical evidence that purportedly showed State Farm had a discriminatory policy against policyholders in predominately African-American neighborhoods.
The suit was filed after a series of calamities struck Darryl Williams’ apartment building on West 79th Street in Chicago. First, a tenant left a window open during freezing weather on Jan. 10, 2017. This caused pipes to freeze and burst, damaging flooring, gas and electric lines, and the building’s boilers. Williams filed three separate claims for damages of more than $400,000.
Less than a month later, vandals struck the building and stole copper pipes and plumbing fixtures and damaged stairwells, windows, ceilings and walls. Then, on April 17, 2017, hail broke through a third-floor roof, damaging the ceiling and drywall. Only a few days later, a second theft occurred, causing more damage.
Williams was incensed after speaking with State Farm claims adjuster Tina Beavers. According to the court’s opinion, she asked for a second telephone number when she was unable to contact a tenant to verify that the building was not vacant when it was first damaged. She did not believe Williams when he said he had only the one number.
“You mean to tell me you people don’t use Facebook and other social media and you don’t know of any of her homeys who could get in contact with her?” she reportedly asked.
Later, Beavers said she was suspicious because, “We have a lot of fraud in your area.”
Williams’ attorney, Kenneth G. Anspach, added to the suit a claim by Nash in an attempt to show State Farm had shown a pattern of discriminatory conduct. Nash was angry at State Farm attorney Peter Alfieri because he had demanded bank statements and income tax returns while processing a damage claim.
Anspach had also submitted as evidence an analysis that concluded property insurance claims filed from predominately African-American neighborhoods were more likely to be denied than claims made for properties in neighborhoods that were not predominately black.
District Judge Charles P. Kocoras dismissed those portions of the complaint. He concluded that Nash did not show any evidence that Alfieri has shown any racial animus. He rejected the analysis of rejected claims because it did not show that State Farm was more likely than other insurers to reject claims from African-American neighborhoods.
But Judge Kocoras ruled that Beavers’ comments clearly demonstrated racial animus. He allowed the claims that State Farm had violated federal and state statutes that prohibit discrimination in the enforcement of contracts to proceed toward trial.
Williams alleged that even though State Farm had paid a portion of the claimed damages, a $76,000 balance remained and he was forced to sell the property as a result.
The court said Williams’ suit alleges that Beaver’s statement that “there is ‘a lot of fraud’ in the ‘South Side of Chicago and you all’s neighborhoods'” is an accurate description of State Farm’s view and treatment of claims from black majority ZIP codes in the city of Chicago.”
“These allegations suffice to stave off a motion to dismiss,” the judge said.
*This story was originally published by our sister publication Claims Journal