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Walker v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

May 8, 2018

William D. Walker, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, Defendant-Appellee.

          APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, C.P.C. No. 14CV-13157

         On brief:

          Caryn Groedel & Associates, Co., LPA, Matthew S. Grimsley, and Caryn M. Groedel, for appellant.

          Jones Day and Matthew A. Kairis, for appellee.

          Argued:

          Matthew S. Grimsley.

          Matthew A. Kairis.

          DECISION

          HORTON, J.

         {¶ 1} Plaintiff-appellant, William D. Walker, appeals from the decision of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas entering judgment in favor of defendant-appellee, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company ("Nationwide"), on Walker's claims for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The trial court determined that Tennessee law applies to Walker's claims, and that they are time-barred under that state's statute of limitations. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         {¶ 2} Nationwide is an Ohio corporation with its principal place of business in Franklin County, Ohio. (Jun. 1, 2016 Answer at ¶ 2.) Walker first started working for Nationwide in 1991 in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1992, Nationwide transferred him to Tennessee to work in its South Central Region, which encompasses Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, Minnesota, and Iowa. Walker was a resident of Tennessee during the remainder of his employment with Nationwide, which was terminated on April 2, 2013. (Answer at ¶ 5-6; Mar. 3, 2015 Second Am. Compl. & Answer at ¶ 1, 5-6, 51; Aff. of Terry F. Saharski, hereinafter "Saharski Aff., " at ¶ 2 & 8.)

         {¶ 3} From December 2001 until the termination of his employment, Walker held the title of Sales Manager.[1] In this position, Walker was responsible for recruiting and managing new insurance agents for Nationwide. Beginning in 1998, Walker's direct supervisor was Terry Saharski, who held the title of Associate Vice President of Sales at the time of Walker's termination. Saharski lived and worked in Tennessee. (Second Am. Compl. & Answer at ¶ 13 & 15; Saharski Aff. at ¶ 1, 6- 7.)

         {¶ 4} Saharski reported to Shelley Brazeau Temple, who was Nationwide's Regional Vice President for the South Central Region. Temple lived in Tennessee beginning in 2011. As Nationwide's Regional Vice President, Temple had final authority over all personnel decisions in the South Central Region. (Aff. of Shelley Brazeau Temple, hereinafter "Temple Aff., " at ¶ 2-4, 7.)

         {¶ 5} As a Sales Manager, Walker received a base salary and variable compensation in the form of a possible bonus based on the amount of the "loss ratio" of the agents he managed. The loss ratio was a calculation of the defined losses incurred for paid claims, plus certain expenses, divided by the total amount of premiums earned. Walker was only to receive a variable compensation bonus if his agents attained a loss ratio of 55 percent or less. Claims based on catastrophic losses, such as tornados, hurricanes, or floods are not included in the loss ratio calculation. (Pl.'s Memo. Contra Def.'s Mot. for Summ. Jgmt., Ex. D; Second Am. Compl. & Answer at ¶ 25-31.)

         {¶ 6} Walker's loss ratio for 2012 was calculated at 55.2 percent. Consequently, he did not receive a variable compensation bonus for that year. Walker contacted Robert McCartney, a Nationwide employee on its Sales Operation Automation team, for assistance with the calculation of his loss ratio and information on how catastrophic claims were designated. After researching the issue, Walker reported to Nationwide that he believed that the company had failed to designate a number of claims arising from hail storms as catastrophic, resulting in an incorrect calculation of his loss ratio. (Second Am. Compl. & Answer at ¶ 31-33.)

         {¶ 7} Walker alleges that the designation of these claims as non-catastrophic constituted "insurance fraud." He also alleges that in January 2013, he provided a report describing the issue to an upper-level claims manager, who subsequently circulated it among Nationwide's upper management. Walker also claims that he met with Saharski on February 7, 2013 "to discuss the miscoding issue, " and that Saharski rebuffed him and accused him of trying to procure an additional bonus. (Second Am. Compl. & Answer at ¶ 42.) Walker alleges that when he and Saharski met a week later, Walker gave him evidence that Nationwide was engaged in "insurance fraud." Walker also claims that he advised an agent to seek legal advice immediately before the agent was fired by Saharski. Nationwide denies each of the foregoing allegations. (Second Am. Compl. & Answer at ¶ 36, 39-45.)

         {¶ 8} On March 15, 2013, Walker was notified that his employment with Nationwide was terminated effective April 2, 2013. The decision was made by Temple and Saharski concurred. (Second Am. Compl. & Answer at ¶ 51; Saharski Aff. at ¶ 8; Temple Aff. at ¶ 8.)

         {¶ 9} Walker filed suit against Nationwide in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on December 16, 2014. He alleged two claims of wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The first claim arose from an allegation in the original complaint that Nationwide retaliated against Walker for testifying against Saharski and Nationwide in a lawsuit the company filed against several of its insurance agents. The second claim arose from Walker's allegation that Nationwide ...


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