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An Alameda County, Calif., jury on Tuesday awarded $90 million to Farmers Insurance Co. claims adjusters who said that they were denied overtime. “The jury sent a message for insurance companies and other employers,” said Steven Zieff, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney. Farmers should honor its pledge to be fair to employees by ending its attempts to appeal, he said. “It’s time to stop the delay.” The jury awarded $88.7 million to the workers for back time-and-a-half pay and $1.2 million for double time, said Zieff of San Francisco’s Rudy, Exelrod & Zieff. The unanimous verdict is one of the largest jury verdicts in a series of multimillion-dollar overtime lawsuits that have landed in California courtrooms. Recently U-Haul and Rite Aid settled similar California suits for $25 million and $7.5 million respectively. In Bell v. Farmers, 774013, 2400 California Farmers adjusters said that they routinely worked extra hours but got no overtime pay. Farmers’ attorneys, led by outside trial counsel Lee Paterson, argued that the employees were not entitled to overtime under federal labor laws. The case was closely watched by the insurance industry and heavily litigated. Farmers unsuccessfully appealed Alameda County Superior Court Judge Mark Eaton’s 1999 summary judgment, in which he found that the workers were due overtime. Once there is a final judgment, Farmers will appeal again, said Paterson. Four years ago, the insurance company rejected Zieff’s $120 million settlement offer, so Farmers will pay less than what the plaintiffs demanded earlier, he noted. The verdict could potentially change the nature of claims adjustment work from a field job where employees set their own hours, to a 9-to-5 operation, said Paterson of Los Angeles’ Winston & Strawn. “It will be a clerical job,” he said.

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