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Tampa insurance company pays to play, gets burned, then sues

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A lawsuit filed last month by a Tampa-based insurance agency shows pay-to-play mentality may be alive and well in the industry.

Brown & Brown of Florida is suing a former employee and her new employer for stealing clients.

Insurance agent Shawna Elizabeth Gambill worked for Brown for 17 years before resigning in May. She now works at the Florida headquarters of another insurance company, Willis.

Gambill’s employment contract with Brown required her to wait two years before contacting any Brown & Brown customers; the lawsuit alleges that within one week Gambill had persuaded four “top revenue generators” to switch their agent of record from Brown to Willis.

One of those four customers is the Florida Orchestra.

Brown alleges it facilitated Gambill’s relationship with the orchestra by donating nearly $20,000 to the group over the past few years.

“This charitable contribution provided additional support to Gambill’s relationship with Florida Orchestra,” the lawsuit reads.

But, as is noted in court documents filed, “it is highly unusual for an employment benefits products customer to submit an [agent of record] change mid-term because the premium amounts do not change … and there is no financial benefit or incentive.”

This brings up a number of questions. First, it suggests that Brown essentially bought the orchestra as a client by donating money to the charity. Second, if orchestra decision-makers had no incentive to change providers, is it possible that Gambill offered them greater charitable contributions from Willis?

With $3.8 billion in total revenue in 2014, Willis certainly has more buying power than Brown. The smaller company’s total revenue in 2012 was just $1.2 billion.

Gambill also managed to take the Florida Orthopedic Institute, Hillsborough County Firefighters and Borrell Electric Company to her new company.

Both Gambill and Willis are named in the lawsuit.

It’s unclear whether Brown made contributions to the other clients. The lawsuit does not specify how much they are asking for in damages.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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