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Northwestern Mutual Sued Over Pay

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Three former sales and financial representative for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company are suing the company for alleged violations of federal and state wage and hour violations.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego, asserts the plaintiffs in the case and others working for the company in similar positions were denied minimum pay and overtime compensation.

A spokeswoman for Northwestern insisted the charges are without merit and that the company would “vigorously defend” against them in court.

The complaint alleges Northwestern, Milwaukee, intentionally denied the plaintiffs fair compensation to which they claim they were entitled under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act and California wage and hour law. They argue that the company misclassified them as independent contractors rather than as employees because independent contractors are exempt from federal and state wage and hour laws, while employees are not.

The plaintiffs are Lola Lint, San Diego, who worked for Northwestern Mutual in 2005-2006; Norma Waddell, Escondido, Calif., who worked for the company in 2006-2008 ; and David Yang, Duluth, Ga., who worked in 2 Georgia offices of the company from 2001-2007.

Waddell and Yang are suing under the federal FLSA while Waddell and Lint are suing under California law.

The 2 California plaintiffs asked the court to certify them as a class on behalf of hundreds of California employees or former employees of Northwestern, and to be paid $100 million in unpaid wages and liquidated damages for violations of state law. The federal plaintiffs also requested unpaid wages and liquidated damages of $100 million.

Jean Towell, a Northwestern spokeswoman, says the individuals filing suit in the case were independent contractors in the company’s distribution system.

While declining to comment specifically on the case because Northwestern had not yet viewed the charges, she noted that the company had won a similar case in U.S. district court for Western Pennsylvania last year. That case, Sofranko v. Northwestern Mutual Life Ins. Co., also involved a claim by an independent contractor that he should have been classified as a company employee.

The plaintiffs in the California case argue that because they did not have authority to make independent decisions about the financial products they sold or about general operations of t heir business, they did not operate as independent contractors.

The lead law firm for the plaintiffs is Sanford Wittels & Heisler L.L.P., San Francisco.