Insurance Company Loses Lawsuit After Discriminating Against Atheists

There are some lawsuits that could just as easily be decided on a coin toss and others that are so overwhelmingly one-sided that you wonder how the losers could’ve been so foolish in the first place.

Here’s a story that falls into the latter category.

GuideOne Mutual Insurance Company was offering a free service to people who bought their homeowners and renters insurance — a service that would offer “special benefits and discounts.”

It was called FaithGuard and it only applied to “churchgoers” and “people of faith.” The implication being, I suppose, that non-religious people would cause all sorts of problems…

That didn’t sit so well with one atheist, one agnostic, and the (non-profit) Lexington Fair Housing Council.

They sued a couple years ago and they won on Friday.

Under the settlement, the defendants [GuideOne] must pay a total of $29,500 to three victims of discrimination, an additional $45,000 to the government as a civil penalty and stop the alleged discriminatory practices.

The settlement also requires GuideOne to stop selling homeowners and renters insurance policies with the FaithGuard endorsement, train GuideOne insurance agents on their responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act and provide periodic reports to the Justice Department.

This sounds like an slam dunk case and the right side won.

Is it all over? I’m not sure. GuideOne still provides FaithGuard protection for auto insurance.

I don’t know if it’s at all similar to their homeowner/renter insurance, but check this out:

Picture 1

So if you’re driving to and from church, you’ll be covered in the event of an accident.

And if you get in an accident and can no longer earn a salary, they will cover your tithes!

What. The. Hell.

Gotta love that fine print, too. GuideOne welcomes all applicants regardless of religion! Unless you have none. In which case, screw you.

(Thanks to Robert for the link!)

  • TJ

    Under the settlement, the defendants [GuideOne] must pay a total of $29,500 to three victims of discrimination, an additional $45,000 to the government as a civil penalty and stop the alleged discriminatory practices.

    That is pocket change compared to the millions they no doubt made. Also appealing to the majority Christian crowd by discriminating against atheists probably made them gain even more customers.

    These fines never seem to hurt the companies in question. They need to be something they’ll feel, like 10-20% of their revenue. They wouldn’t do it again after taking a hit like that.

  • Alien

    While certainly weird, I personally think the company should be able to offer a product like this. It is simply a more comprehensive product than most people would get for AUTO coverage. Furthermore, they may very well NOT discriminate (or more specifically, deny coverage) on religious basis, but the non-rapture-believing would be wise to steer clear of a policy like this since it would be over-insurance (i.e. coverage that is excessive for one’s needs, which I am sure the policy holders pay for one way or another).

    If this is discrimination (and I don’t think it is), I think a similar charge could be leveled against post-rapture pet care. Surely atheists and non-rapture-theists don’t need post-rapture pet care (but perhaps the vendors would be happy to sell post-rapture insurance to anyone? I mean, it’s extra money, right?)

  • ShavenYak

    And if you get in an accident and can no longer earn a salary, they will cover your tithes!

    Most Christians tithe 10% of their income (Rev. Lovejoy of the First Church of Springfield reminds us that it’s 10% of gross, not net). So if you lost your salary, wouldn’t your tithe go to zero?

    GuideOne welcomes all applicants regardless of religion! Unless you have none. In which case, screw you.

    Actually, they specify “church” several times in their features – I’d bet if an insured under this plan had an accident on the way to a mosque or a temple, the company would try to weasel out of paying.

  • ShavenYak

    While certainly weird, I personally think the company should be able to offer a product like this. It is simply a more comprehensive product than most people would get for AUTO coverage.

    Agreed, as long as the product doesn’t offer discounts or other perks that aren’t available to the non-religious under a roughly similar policy.

    Furthermore, they may very well NOT discriminate on religious basis, but the non-religious would be wise to steer clear of a policy like this since it would be over-insurance (which I am sure the policy holders pay for one way or another).

    It might actually be a good idea for us if they update their list of features specifically to include the non-religious. For example, they could offer special coverage for our travel to and from natural history museums (where we worship Darwin, of course) and kitten barbecues, and cover our donations to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU if we lose our job due to an accident.

  • aproustian

    The frightening thing is I have GuideOne car insurance–it’s what my parents provided for me when I started driving, and it’s too good coverage for the price for me to switch at this point (maybe when I’m not a poor grad student…). But I’ve always been squicked out by the religiosity of the company.

  • Polly

    I don’t see the problem with the auto side. I didn’t read about the homeowners’ benefits.

    A private company favoring members of its favorite religion is no different than a private company making charitable donations to a religious organization or making political contributions. You can get discounts for being a member of AAA or over 65(ageism?).

    Note that it’s not saying you have to BE a Christian. Just going to/from a church is open to anyone; that could include UU. Also, you can be an atheist and still frequent churches as a particular, popular atheist author has done.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    They should not offer the FaithGuard for free (but only to religious people). People not qualifying for the FaithGuard free offering would be subsidizing the extra cost of the FaithGuard. That is indeed discriminatory. If, on the other hand, they offered it as a rider (for a fee) on top of their standard offering, then I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

    The underwriters would have to determine the actual cost of the FaithGuard offering and charge an appropriate amount for the insurance rider on top of the standard policy. Then atheists wouldn’t be subsidizing the cost for the religious. Atheists could get the standard policy. Religious people could elect to get the Faithguard rider in addition if they want.

  • ImmortalityLTD

    Just to be fair, I think they should offer a plan for the non-religious that waives the deductible and doubles the medical limits if the accident occurs while NOT driving to or from church services. And the memorial gift of $1000 should be paid to Hemant’s Friendly Atheist Donations Paypal account.

  • http://arkonbey.blogspot.com Arkonbey

    Wow. Nobody has made the half-joking observation that if you are truly a believer and blessed by God, why would you need insurance at all?

    If bad does happen, it’s God’s will and probably something the person did wrong anyway.

    and:

    You can get discounts for being a member of AAA or over 65(ageism?)

    Well, everybody ages regardless of religion, don’t they? All you have to do is not die and eventually you get the discount.

  • Sven

    As a follower of FSM, I carry my T*pperware church with me where I go. So I guess I’m pretty much covered 24/7.

  • Alan in CA

    I agree with Jeff on this one. aproustian is one of those who is subsidizing the cost since they don’t charge extra for those other services, but as long as you are of faith. It would indeed be fair if the same things could be offered to those of varying faiths and non-faiths at the same cost and benefit. Its like trying to run for public office in a very fundamental Christian area, say Orange County. Anyone can surely run and have a “fair” shot, but there is no way an atheist would ever win in there. They say it is at no extra cost, except those who can’t reap those benefits, unless you lie. What was it Mr. Deity said? “Is your integrity worth an eternity of hell-fire? I don’t think so.”

  • Michael

    The libertarian in me says they are a private company and they are free to offer discounts to whoever they please. If you don’t like it, don’t do business with them.

    Their discounts are weird but I am free to not do business with them and I most certainly wouldn’t. (I wouldn’t trust my money/property with anyone who takes mythology for reality).

    I am not sure how this was a “fair housing” issue.

  • Polly

    In any insurance system, the healthy/good drivers/justplainlucky subsidize the rest. That’s the very basis of profitable insurance – given the time-value of money.

    To the extent that insurance companies are barred from including certain factors (states vary) in their rate filings, the rates get skewed so that your good driving record, health, address, circumstances, etc. may not benefit you and you subsidize others.

    Ultimately, if the company’s policy of giving away coverage pushes up prices for non-church goers (which could include actual believers), the market will punish it by way of non-faith-based competitors. As aproustian says:

    it’s too good coverage for the price for me to switch

    so, their rates are still competitive. I have to ask, what’s the problem?

    The way I see it is that if they are forced to stop giving benefits to church-goers, they’ll just make more profit and donate it. Or, they’ll file for a rate increase – sounds like they have wiggle room there – and make more profit…to give directly to their favorite religion.

  • http://www.dwasifar.com dwasifar

    AIG does this too, for Lutherans. I wrote them a letter complaining and they told me it was okay because the plan was open to anyone. I blogged the story back in April of last year, but never thought to actually sue them.

  • Spurs Fan

    I have noticed that most private companies and all government entities have the non-discrimination status at the bottom. While it’s disturbing to me that sexual orientation is not normally a part of those statements, I do find it to be ENcouraging that 50 years ago, many would not have included them at all. It’s proof that a progressive mindset that includes tolerance and non-discrimination is winning as very few people these days would think discriminating based on race, for example, would be a bad thing. This gives me hope for the future!

  • Colin

    I think I might be able to see the business case for this.

    Pastors, by far, would get the greatest benefit from these policies, since they’re constantly driving to and from church. Then, when its time to select insurance for the church building, well, they already know the name of one company…

    I’d kind of expect a number of additional lawsuits – surely, the company has more than just 3 atheist/agnostic clients.

  • Timothy

    Why do Americans love to sue each other so much? It’s one of the things the rest of the world thinks about you: “the country where they’re always suing each other”. Weird. If a company wants to offer discounts to certain individuals, why not? If you like it, take a policy. If you don’t like it, choose another company.

    I suppose, reflecting on this issue, that atheists have a stronger need for absolute equality in this life, because you don’t believe in the perfect equality and justice of the life to come in heaven. Personally I’m sticking with my faith, but it’s been interesting learning a bit more about atheism, thank you.

    Timothy (English, Christian, church-goer, and never sued anyone – or been sued by anyone!)

  • Geoff

    While there are laws covering discriminatory hiring practices, even for private companies, are there similar laws regarding services offered? Yes, this is a discriminatory practice – but unless there are laws being broken, what are the grounds for a lawsuit?

    Just note that they’re being prats, and shop around for the best insurance plan. If they still offer the best insurance plan for your money, consider taking your business elsewhere anyway, and send them a letter explaining why they’re not getting your business.

    However, my line of reasoning here could lead to an interesting chain of consequences: In a bid to gain marketshare among the religious, companies begin a game of one-upmanship that leads to a defacto penalty against the non-religious (10% discount on rates if you’re a registered church-goer; we’ll reduce your yearly bill by the amount you tithe – just bring a church receipt; I can think of these ideas all day!). Which would then lead to an effort to get anti-discrimination laws put in place / adjust regulations, etc.

    In my cartoon universe, this would then lead to a backlash involving torch-wielding mobs and scientists building rayguns to defend the university, starring Arnold as a graying physics prof rescuing skeptics from the city at large (“Come with me if you want to live.”) (Dang, I can’t keep it serious for five minutes, can I?!)

  • Miko

    It’s not discriminatory: atheists could get the same benefit while driving to or from church. The fact that we don’t go to church doesn’t distinguish us from the vast majority of theists who don’t go to church.

    Anyway, the decision was completely wrong (on a moral level if not a legal level: perhaps it’s consistent with some provision of FHA; if so, I don’t care). It’s common for one business to make deals with another business to steer customers their way. While the features certainly look weird, you have to remember that (as they are one of the nation’s leading insurers of churches) the costs of these features is going to be borne primarily by the churches.

    And guess what? If you don’t like the services one business offers, you can frequent another instead. You don’t see vegetarians suing BBQ restaurants over a lack of veggie options; we just eat elsewhere.

  • Miko

    However, my line of reasoning here could lead to an interesting chain of consequences: In a bid to gain marketshare among the religious, companies begin a game of one-upmanship that leads to a defacto penalty against the non-religious (10% discount on rates if you’re a registered church-goer [etc.])

    Except that most companies wouldn’t care about market share among the religious, but rather about total market share. Any company that could afford to give churchgoers a 10% discount would naturally give everyone a 10% discount if they wanted to remain competitive.

  • Luther

    I think it is discriminatory. Just like offering meal discounts to those with church bulletins.

    I’d like to see the fine print. Perhaps they only provide payment if you make the claim from the afterlife – double if it is from heaven. Or perhaps original sin or a history of expressing doubt are disqualifying pre-existing conditions. Special pain and suffering if you hit clergy and get sworn at or are suddenly excommunicated.

  • Todd

    I don’t see how GuideOne is going to lose this on appeal. Mutual companies are private organizations. They can discriminate to their heart’s content, when it comes to choosing customers. What I’m curious about is what these products have to do with HUD.

  • http://jessicasideways.com Jessica Sideways

    I’m quite glad that those fuckers lost.

  • ChameleonDave

    They sued a couple years ago.

    I don’t think that means what you think it means.

  • Pingback: Saint Gasoline » Blog Archive » Faith Insurance

  • Bobby

    Yeah, the article makes sense of it. You can’t discriminate in housing insurance because of the Fair Housing Act.

    “Discrimination on the basis of someone’s religious faith is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act,” said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “All individuals have the right to secure homeowners and renters insurance without regard to their religious beliefs, and the Civil Rights Division will continue to ensure those rights are protected.”

    You can discriminate in the provision of car insurance all you want. But, y’know, you usually probably shouldn’t, because it’s rude and bad PR. But there’s nothing wrong with targeting niche markets, especially if they’re already insuring churches, they might as well kiss ass to the parishioners.


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