M&S initiated a ground-breaking class action lawsuit against John Hancock Life Insurance for its company-wide policy of rarely selling life insurance to African-Americans in the early to mid-20th century. The lawsuit also confronted John Hancock’s practice of offering African-Americans substandard and seriously inferior life insurance products when it did sell insurance to African-Americans. The lawsuit also alleged that John Hancock fraudulently concealed its practices from policy holders and from the public, and that the plaintiff and the class were only recently able to discover the discrimination even though it occurred long in the past.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut granted final approval of a $24.4 million race discrimination class action settlement with John Hancock Life Insurance Company, resolving claims of decades-old discriminatory practices in the sale and marketing of life insurance policies to African-Americans. It was an extraordinary settlement that makes fair amends for historic practices providing relief to those who were sold these products and giving a substantial amount of money back to the African-American community.
Class members – defined as all African-Americans who were purchasers, owners, insureds or beneficiaries of industrial or monthly debit policies issued by John Hancock prior to 1959 – were entitled to up to $1,200 per policy.
The settlement also has large cy pres component. Over $15 million of the settlement was used to create the “Norflet Progress Fund” – named in honor of Ms. Merle Norflet, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit – and is being distributed to non-profit organizations that do work that benefits African-American communities.
Noted civil rights attorney, John Brittain, heads the committee that advises counsel and the court on the distribution of the fund. The committee is comprised of leading civil rights advocates, including Theodore Shaw, Judge Nathaniel Jones, Geraldine Sumter, Charles Ogletree and John Powell, and Deidra Ierardi.