SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A federal judge on Thursday denied each side’s request for summary judgment in a dispute over the firing of a Sioux Falls insurance agent after he testified in favor of legislation that attempted to change South Dakota insurance law.
Timothy J. Donohue alleges that his then-employer, insurer Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. and the company’s area president, Bob Jacobsen, engaged in an act of retaliatory discharge.
Donohue testified to the state Senate Commerce and Energy Committee on January 25, 2022, in support of SB-92, which sought more transparency from taxpayer-funded insurance pools. The committee set the proposal aside.
Jacobsen called Donohue on February 2, 2022, and terminated Donohue because of the testimony.
Sioux Falls attorney Steven Sanford filed suit in court on April 1, 2022, on Donohue’s behalf. The suit claims that Donohue’s termination was an act of retaliatory discharge, which is prohibited under South Dakota law, and that Donohue suffered more than $500,000 in damages as a result.
Hal A. Shillingstad of Minneapolis, one of the attorneys defending AJG and Jacobsen, argued that Jacobsen fired Donohue because Donohue had violated company policies.
U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier on Thursday issued a denial of each side’s motion for summary judgment.
“After careful review of the record, the court finds that a genuine dispute of material fact exists in this case. The parties disagree over the reason for Donohue’s termination, which is an essential element of Donohue’s claim for retaliatory discharge,” Judge Schreier wrote.
She continued, “Donohue claims he was terminated for testifying, while defendants argue that Donohue was discharged for failure to comply with company policy. Each party has presented adequate evidence on the record that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in their favor Thus, the court declines to grant summary judgment for either party.”
According to the judge, “On January 28, 2022, Craig Ambach, executive director for one of AJG’s
clients, emailed AJG personnel asking ‘[w]hy do you guys have a broker testifying on SB 92 for more oversight and regulations on self funded pools[.]’ Jacobsen, AJG’s area president for Iowa
and South Dakota, was made aware of the inquiry and investigated Donohue’s testimony.”
Ambach directs South Dakota state government’s Office of Risk Management. The phone call from Jacobsen to Donahue followed days later.
Donohue has requested a jury trial.