The Wyoming Supreme Court will consider a case next month of an insurance agent who claims he was shorted as much as $225,000 when he was fired.
It’s a lawsuit the agent believes could set a precedent for Wyoming employer-employee contracts, but a state lawmaker and attorney said that’s a longshot.
Cheyenne resident Ron Pinther is suing American National Property and Casualty Insurance Co. (ANPAC), claiming his former employer didn’t give him all of the information he needed when he first started working there in 2011.
Absent from his employment contract, he claims, was important information about how he would be paid for his insurance bookings after his separation from the company.
Had he known, Pinther says in his lawsuit that he would have never worked for ANPAC in the first place.
State Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, who also is a civil attorney, said while there’s potential to impact Wyoming employment contracts if Pinther were to win his appeal, it’s not likely.
“I would be surprised if Mr. Pinther were to win,” Stith said.
Now an insurance agent for Allstate, Pinther has lost his case in lower courts and is appealing to the Wyoming Supreme Court, arguing there is sufficient evidence to show that by not being specific about payout policies, ANPAC breached the contract.
He’s also claiming fraudulent inducement, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, intentional interference and conspiracy.
He said although ANPAC told him he would be compensated for the value of his bookings, the contract never delineated how he would be paid.
Pennies On The Dollar
Conversely, ANPAC contends Pinther had no contractual vested interest in the renewal premiums on his nearly $700,000 book of business and after leaving the company was only entitled to $128.40 per month, or around $1,500 per year in “lieu of renewal commissions.”
Pinther said the company admitted during depositions that it did not directly give Pinther complete post-termination compensation information.
Pinther said it’s general insurance industry practice to compensate insurance agents for 1.5 to three times their annual compensation from bookings when they sell off these accounts and leave a company. For Pinther, who said he was receiving about $75,000 a year on his bookings, this would result in a $112,000 to $225,000 payout.
At the time of his termination in 2018, Pinther said he was given no reason for his firing, which is allowed because Wyoming is an at-will employment state, meaning employers can fire employees anytime for any reason, with certain discrimination exceptions.
Pinther also accused an ANPAC employee of making false and defamatory statements against him, which unfairly led to his termination. He said these statements were never brought to his attention before being fired.
“I guess you could call it a conspiracy,” Pinther told Cowboy State Daily.
Will It Win?
In 2022, Laramie County District Court Judge Catherine Rogers offered a summary judgment in favor of ANICO.
Rogers ruled that since the company referenced the post-termination compensation in its contractual agreement — no matter how vaguely — it eliminated Pinther’s claim about renewal commissions.
It’s Pinther’s goal to have the Supreme Court overturn the ruling and return the case to Laramie County District Court for a trial. He believes his case has potential to set a legal precedent for requiring more information to be disclosed on contracts in Wyoming.
If he loses, he also believes it will set a precedent for a lack of transparency on contracts.
“If we win, it will improve contract law in Wyoming,” Pinther told Cowboy State Daily.
Stith told Cowboy State Daily he believes Pinther’s case faces an uphill battle because there aren't many claims about the material facts of the case.
Although he admitted he’s been wrong before, Stith also believes the case likely won’t impact Wyoming contractual law as the ANPAC agreement states that it falls under the state laws of Missouri.
“I would be surprised if it changed employment law in Wyoming, but you never know,” Stith said.
According to ANPAC, Missouri law states that the “cardinal rule for interpreting a contract is to effectuate the parties’ intent at the time of contracting,” which means that a contract is to be read on its face value. It also says that it is the duty of the signor to fully know what he’s is agreeing to.
If Stith is right, Pinther said it will be “a gloomy day for people who sign contracts in Wyoming.”
Oral arguments will be presented to the Supreme Court on Nov. 16.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.