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Judge dismisses retaliation lawsuit against State Farm

An exterior view of State Farm's corporate headquarters building
Staff
/
WGLT file
State Farm is headquartered in Bloomington and is the community's largest employer.

A leader of the Bloomington-Normal NAACP has lost a lawsuit filed against State Farm.

A judge dismissed Carla Campbell-Jackson's claimthat State Farm fired her in 2016 after 27 years of employment because she reported an anonymous letter that contained racist and offensive statements that had been sent to several workers at a Michigan office of the company.

At the time, Campbell-Jackson was claims section manager for the Special Investigative Unit at State Farm that looked for potentially fraudulent claims.

The letter was addressed to the president of State Farm and to “HISPANISH, MUSLIMS, BLACKS AND MINORITIES IN KALAMAZOO.” The letter referenced a Donald Trump political rally in Bloomington and alleged many State Farm workers and executives attended the event.

According to court documents, one reason State Farm ended her employment was Campbell-Jackson’s use of her company email for personal purposes. A review of 17 months of her email found about 4,700 messages, or 94% of her email, involved personal matters and was not work related, claimed State Farm.

Company policy requires employees to use “State Farm electronic information resources ... primarily for Company purposes, and not for personal benefit or that of others. ... Personal use must be reasonable and kept to a minimum,” according to the ruling by federal district court judge Hala Y. Jarbou.

The broad review of Campbell-Jackson’s email, the company said, was triggered by an automatic computer filter that flagged one of her emails going outside the company in which she had attached several internal confidential documents and one containing private client information.

That particular email was in support of her request for reconsideration of a performance assessment. The reviewer had asked for examples of why Campbell-Jackson thought her performance was better than her rating. She attached 50 documents and copied herself.

The firing came two weeks after the racially harassing letter was delivered. Campbell-Jackson filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that petered out when State Farm refused conciliation in September 2021. The EEOC allowed Campbell-Jackson to sue, and she filed her lawsuit in November of that year.

In his summary judgment, the judge said Campbell-Jackson didn't provide evidence of retaliation because she had periodically complained about perceived racism for years and had never had an adverse response. She couldn't claim a time-related causal connection to the firing, and she presented no other evidence of retaliation, said the judge.

“It makes little sense that [State Farm] would retaliate against [Campbell-Jackson] for reporting an event that was somewhat widely known when it happened, and then widely shared among managers almost immediately after her report,” wrote Jarbou.

Following the letter, court records show State Farm notified police, increased security measures, required managers to both email and have verbal conversations with those reporting to them that such a letter was “intolerable,” that the company takes “anything impacting our work environment ... very seriously,” that if any employees were aware of who was involved, they had an obligation to report it; and for anyone involved in or responsible for the letter, the consequences would be “very serious.”

State Farm also has faced a couple other lawsuits alleging a climate that allows racist incidents and creates a hostile workplace for minorities. One of those sought class action status. It is due for a status check Sept. 27 in McLean County Circuit Court.

State Farm said when the case was filed it has long been committed to a diverse and inclusive environment. Following the summary judgment, the company emailed this statement to WGLT.

“State Farm continues to be a place where all customers and associates are treated with respect and dignity. We believe the Court reached the appropriate conclusion that State Farm had a legitimate, non-discriminatory basis for ending the employment relationship.”

In a fiery statement, the NAACP Illinois State Conference responded to the dismissal saying it supported Campbell-Jackson and that it will "hold State Farm Accountable for blatant racism, discrimination, and retaliation."

"Ever since making the heroic decision to stand for justice, countless other Black employees, agents, and policyholders have contacted the NAACP to share similar stories—some of which are shocking in nature," said the NAACP. "State Farm is aware of the multitude of racist incidences within its four walls, and operating in a state of oblivion is counterproductive. Retaliating against Black employees for expressing racist and discriminatory concerns violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Pretextual evidence--disguised to justify State Farm’s retaliation—is deplorable."

The statement indicated the organization believes the U.S. 6th circuit court of appeals will reverse the dismissal and allow a jury trial.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.