2 Women Sue Agent, Insurance Firm For Sexual Harassment

November 25, 2009|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Two women who work for a State Farm insurance agent in Randallstown sued him and his corporate employer Tuesday, saying he repeatedly subjected them to sexual harassment, vile insults and a hostile work environment.

Kristi Mitchell and Veronica Cobb are seeking at least $4 million in punitive damages from the agent, Obie Sorrell, and State Farm Annuity and Life Insurance Co., a Fortune 500 company based in Bloomington, Ill., that has 17,000 agents and 68,000 employees.

Mitchell has been an office manager for State Farm since February 2002, and Cobb was hired in May as a customer-service manager.

The suit alleges that Sorrell repeatedly called Cobb a "prostitute" and a "whore" and accused her of sleeping with policyholders. When Cobb asked Sorrell not to call her a prostitute, according to the complaint, Sorrell replied, "This is my shop. My name is on the sign and if you don't like it you can get ... out."

According to the complaint, filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Sorrell "consistently rubbed plaintiffs' shoulders and backs, without their consent." Sorrell repeated the behavior as recently as Nov. 2 and said "this feels good," according to the suit.

The women say they told two State Farm officials, a field executive named Aaron Slater and a man who reports to him, Matthew Jenson, about Sorrell's alleged behavior, but nothing was done. Then, in a Nov. 17 meeting with the women, Slater "apologized for not addressing the problem" but "kept asking if plaintiffs were going to sue State Farm or just defendant Sorrell," according to the suit.

Sorrell did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment. Neither did two representatives of State Farm's media-relations office. Slater and Jenson could not be reached.

According to the lawsuit, Sorrell "makes sexual comments" every time a woman enters the office and "constantly sends e-mails to plaintiffs of naked women." He also complained that his wife "never had sexual relations with him," the suit says.

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