Ohio National to pay $213,000 to insurance agent for breaching contract

A jury found the insurer prevented Elisia Lattimer from recruiting insurance agents to her practice

Nov 12, 2019 @ 2:11 pm

By Greg Iacurci

A jury awarded $213,000 in damages to an insurance agent formerly employed by Ohio National Life Insurance Co. after finding that the insurer breached the recruiting agreements it had in place with the agent.

The insurance agent, Elisia Lattimer, won the breach-of-contract verdict from a panel of nine jurors in state court in Hamilton County, Ohio. Ms. Lattimer, who owned and operated an independent insurance agency when she joined Ohio National in February 2015, alleged the company prevented her from recruiting insurance agents, causing "substantial damages" such as lost revenue.

The jury award comes as Ohio National is battling several lawsuits brought by broker-dealers and brokers who allege the company breached its respective contracts by terminating trail-commission payments on certain variable annuity policies. Ohio National announced that decision — a first-of-its-kind move among life insurers — less than a month after exiting the annuity business in mid-September 2018.

"The 18 months I was with [Ohio National], they have no moral compass whatsoever," Ms. Lattimer said. "They'll say and do anything to get what they want. They basically don't honor their contracts."

"I've been in the industry 21 years and have never been at a company that treated me as badly as they did," she added.

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The jury didn't award Ms. Lattimer damages on other counts, including gender discrimination, unjust enrichment and fraudulent inducement.

"The verdict on many of the claims associated with this case favored Ohio National," said company spokeswoman Lisa Doxsee. "We hold ourselves, the relationships we build, and the products we deliver to the highest standards of quality."

Ms. Lattimer is considering appealing the jury's decision not to award damages on other counts.

Ms. Lattimer's insurance agency employed nine insurance agents when she joined Ohio National in 2015. She signed two contracts: one to become a career insurance agent with Ohio National, and another to become an associate general agent of Ohio National, which included requirements that Ms. Lattimer recruit and develop a sales force, according to a legal complaint filed in July 2018.

Under the latter contract, Ms. Lattimer's compensation was based largely on the number of agents she recruited to sell Ohio National insurance products. However, Ms. Lattimer alleged that Ohio National "hamstrung" and "interfered" with her recruiting efforts.

At one point, regional vice president Kevin Korenoski told her she was "prohibited from recruiting agents and could only work with the agents she had brought with her to Ohio National," according to the complaint.

Ms. Lattimer also alleged that she had sent Keith Carson, her manager and the insurer's general agent, contracts to review and approve for potential hires on two occasions, but they were either ignored or rejected.

"They said she and her group had to bring in a certain amount of business, but they weren't letting her recruit," said Ms. Lattimer's attorney, Caryn Groedel. "They only let her have the agents she originally came with."

Ohio National ultimately terminated Ms. Lattimer's employment, canceling her contract and those of her three female agents in June 2016. The firm kept the remaining male agent and all of Ms. Lattimer's customers, Ms. Groedel said.

The jury rendered its verdict Oct. 31.

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