Reminiscent of David versus Goliath, the Rev. Dr. J. Benjamin Hardwick took on the mammoth Transamerica Life Insurance Company and won.
Hardwick, the pastor of Praises of Zion Missionary Baptist Church in South Los Angeles, was recently awarded a $5.6 million judgment from Transamerica after a jury found the company guilty of improperly raising insurance premiums by 50 percent on 2,400 predominately African American members of his and other local churches.
“This outcome is a blessing to our community and all who believe in the promise of the program,” said Hardwick. “It gives rise to the belief that all of us – no matter what community you are from – have the right to be treated fairly.”
Hardwick’s relationship with Transamerica began in 2004 when the church joined with investors, DCD Partners, LLC, to purchase investor-owned life insurance for parishioners who couldn’t afford it. Those who were insured became part of a charitable program, which provided family members money for burial expenses, funds for the community activities of Praises of Zion’s Personal Involvement Center (PIC), and other non-profit groups.
According to a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report, the investors receive $225,000 of each $275,000 death benefit, while church’s PIC social service program and beneficiaries of the insured split the remaining $50,000.
When Transamerica increased the premiums by 50 percent in 2013, the church and DCD were outraged, claiming the company used race-based data to calculate the new rate, which would raise costs by $100 million and result in the life insurance program’s demise.
WSJ reported that the defendants called the allegations “categorically false and offensive.”
“Transamerica did not raise rates on the policies due to the race of those insured, nor would we ever increase rates based on racial considerations,” the company said in a statement, adding that the 50% increase applied “to all policies of the same class.”
In 2013, the investors sued claiming breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The action paid off two years later when the court ruled the increase was null and void, which positions the life insurance program to continue to provide benefits for the community, the individual insureds, and investors who have sustained the program.
“The verdict reaffirms what our clients believed all along – Transamerica improperly raised the rates on these policies,” says William A. Brewer III, partner at Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors, and counsel for plaintiffs. “Beyond the benefits to the local community, we believe this outcome underscores the rights and responsibilities of parties to these types of contracts.”
As for the next steps, Brewer said that the court will schedule a bench trial on DCD Partners’ request for declaratory relief-based on its claims for breach of contract, and a statutory claim it has asserted against Transamerica.