The Industry #MeToo forgot

(Insider) - Drinks in hand, shirtless insurance agents cluster around the 5,000-square-foot Neptune Pool at glitzy Caesars Palace.

Prominent among them, sporting a blanket of tattoos on his bare sculpted chest is Simon Arias III, an agency owner and life-insurance sales machine. He makes the rounds among his subordinates. He puffs on a cigar with one group. He cradles a pineapple cocktail with another.

It's May, and they've all come to Las Vegas for the year's biggest sales convention. Inside the conference center, a corporate videographer captures showgirls in glittery headpieces and a king-size poster of Arias — this time, in a tailored suit — standing among a gallery of top performers who will be honored at a gala that night.

Just weeks earlier, a former agent filed an explosive lawsuit against Arias and other parties, alleging a pattern of unchecked sexual assault and harassment at his agency. The claims about one of Arias' top lieutenants are graphic — scenes of him masturbating in front of a female direct report; an image he sent her of his own erection. But there is no sign of tension poolside. Young agents with freshly poured margaritas are focused on gratitude. 

"Thank God for AIL and Globe Life," one says to the camera.

The lawsuit describes a culture of abuse at a workplace that operated without guardrails. Agents at Arias, like those at many life insurance agencies, are treated as independent contractors, not employees. Contractors aren't covered by federal laws protecting employees from discrimination and harassment, and they fall outside state laws that require sexual harassment training for employees. It's a structure that may have helped Arias, and the industry as a whole, escape the wave of accountability sparked by #MeToo.

American Income Life, the convention sponsor, is a subsidiary of Globe Life Inc., a New York Stock Exchange-traded insurance company that markets life, accident, and supplemental health insurance. In the sports world, Globe is known for naming rights to the Texas Rangers' Globe Life Field. In the business world, it is among the celebrity stocks in the portfolio of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, which holds 6.35 million shares of the McKinney, Texas-based company. 

Globe Life sits at the top of a corporate pyramid, a holding company with five wholly owned insurance subsidiaries.  AIL is by far the largest, whether measured by premiums collected or by the number of sales agents peddling Globe's wares around the country. AIL, in turn, relies on a web of affiliated life insurance agencies that exclusively sell AIL policies to consumers.

While the corporate entities package the policies, the hard-driving agents are the jet fuel that powers AIL and Globe Life. Top agents are so critical to revenue that they are rewarded generously with commissions, bonuses, and stays at posh hotels in Cancún and the Bahamas. Only the most successful agents at the most successful agencies were invited by AIL to hang out poolside with company brass at the Las Vegas convention. 

Among them, Arias Agencies. At 39, Arias has a profile like no other. His firm ranks among the most profitable agencies in the AIL system and achieves its success in an intense masculine culture that often steamrolls agents and customers alike.

Much of the lawsuit filed last April was forced into arbitration, but Insider obtained private arbitration documents, exclusive interviews with the plaintiff, and copies of inflammatory Snapchat messages. 

By Susan Antilla
February 24, 2023


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