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Allstate tried to cut off auto insurance sales to drivers in Brampton, lawsuit claims

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An Ontario woman is taking one of the province’s biggest insurance providers to court, alleging she was fired for pushing back on the company’s « discriminatory » effort to stop selling plans to drivers who live in Brampton. 

« It’s just wrong. There is no other word for it, » said Medha Joshi. « I said it was wrong, and I was reprimanded for it. »

Late last month, Joshi and her legal counsel, Andrew Monkhouse, filed a suit in Ontario’s Superior Court against Allstate Insurance Canada. Until October, Joshi held the position of agency manager at the company, where she presided over a sales team working out of Allstate’s Milton location.

She was initially hired by Allstate in 2012, though she left for number of months in 2014 to live in the U.K. 

Joshi says that in the late summer, after returning to work from a medical leave for treatment of a number of health conditions diagnosed several months earlier, she learned of an unwritten managerial directive to stop offering auto insurance policies to residents of Brampton. 

« It was very clearly said, in so many words, that there is a lot of fraud that happens in Brampton. That there is a very high number of claims and a very high number of fraudulent claims, » she said in an interview from her home in Rockwood, Ont., near Guelph. 

The explanation did not add up to Joshi. As a veteran in the industry, she had previously worked in downtown Toronto, Kingston and Brampton, before ending up in Milton.

« People are people. There was nothing that walked in through the door in Brampton that was different than any place else, » she said. 

It was clear, she alleges, that the directive targeted visible minorities.

« We know the community that resides in Brampton, and they are visible minorities, » Joshi said. 

The all-comers rule

Relatively high auto insurance are a perennial political issue in Brampton. According to insurance comparison site Kanetix.ca, drivers in the city regularly pay higher premiums for their policies than surrounding jurisdictions. In 2017, for example, Brampton drivers paid 70 per cent more per month for their insurance than the provincial average. 

And it is true that insurance companies have the prerogative to charge varying premiums for people of different ages and genders. However, increases and decreases to insurance premiums are regulated by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FISCO) — a company cannot unilaterally change rates. 

But what Allstate was trying to do was different, according to Joshi and Monkhouse. 

Insurance companies operating in Ontario follow what is known as « the all-comers rule. » If an applicant meets a set of criteria laid out by providers and approved by FISCO, they cannot be denied insurance, regardless of where they live or their ethnic background. 

Lawyer Andrew Monkhouse said the case could encourage individual residents in Brampton to launch their own human rights complaints against Allstate Insurance Canada. (Michael Cole/CBC)

« I think it is wrong to be so brazenly biased toward an entire community, » Joshi said. « I didn’t know how, in good faith, to go deliver this direction to my team, to deliver this message that I couldn’t stand behind. »

Those above her in the company made a point not to write any of the new policy down, she alleges. The harder she pushed to get clarification, or to have a manager put into words how the policy should be communicated to staff, the more isolated she became, Joshi said.

« I could not seem to get meetings with my manager, I could not seem to have weekly discussions with my manager. He ‘wasn’t available.’ He wouldn’t respond to emails. »

‘I also needed my benefits’

She admits that despite her own reservations about the alleged decision to cut off new policies in Brampton, she did try to compromise with her superiors. 

« While I was having conversations, I also needed my benefits. I also needed my company, my organization, to support me in my time of need. And not for a second did I think I would be penalized in such a manner. »

Finally, at what was supposed to be a routine meeting with her manager, her job was terminated. Joshi alleges she never received any prior warnings and that she was given no possible recourse after the fact.

Allstate claimed that she had taken part in an underhanded effort to have another employee transferred to a different location — an allegation that Joshi denies. 

She and Monkhouse are seeking some $600,000 in total damages from Allstate for wrongful dismissal and violations of the Ontario Human Rights Code. 

Allstate Insurance Canada did not respond to CBC Toronto’s request for comment. The company has, however, indicated to the court that it intends to mount a defence. Monkhouse said he expects Allstate to file a statement of defence, laying out its case against Joshi early in the new year. 

Monkhouse said the case would lead individual Brampton residents to launch their own human rights complaints against Allstate. 

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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