First, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. was sued by some former salespeople in its Tampa district sales office.
Now, the insurance giant is being sued by two of its customers.
Two nurses filed suit Monday against MetLife and its former Tampa district sales manager, saying they were misled into buying life insurance policies improperly disguised as "retirement savings plans" or other investments. One of the nurses, Joyce Armbruster, lives in Largo. The other, Sherry Horton, lives in Toledo, Ohio.
The suit, filed in federal court in Tampa, contends that since at least 1988, MetLife salespeople from Tampa and elsewhere have fraudulently misrepresented their products nationwide, in violation of federal statutes against racketeering.
Because the improper sales tactics were apparently so widespread, the suit also asks a judge to declare the case a class action, said Chris Hoyer, the Tampa attorney who filed the case.
"It's nationwide," Hoyer said.
Class-action suits are brought by one or more persons on behalf of themselves and a much larger group, all of whom have the same grounds for action.
More than 20,000 nurses, chiropractors and other medical professionals bought the improper MetLife products, Hoyer contends in the suit. Under racketeering statutes, they could be eligible for triple damages if they win the case.
Charles Sahner, spokesman for MetLife at the company's New York headquarters, said MetLife attorneys had not seen the case and therefore could not comment on it. Daniel "Rick" Urso, who was manager of MetLife's 100-person district sales office in Tampa before resigning his management duties last week, has not returned repeated phone calls from the Times.
The class-action suit is the latest in a number of problems MetLife is facing in Florida and elsewhere.
In August, state Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher issued an administrative complaint against the company asking it to explain why he should not revoke its license to do business in Florida for the misleading sales practices. The state attorney general has since joined Gallagher's office in an investigation of the company. Several other states also have started similar investigations into MetLife's sales practices.
The Florida Insurance Department's action came on the heels of a state investigation started after two former MetLife Tampa employees sued the company, saying they had been improperly fired for trying to stop the improper sales practices.
And last month, Hoyer's wife and fellow attorney Judy Hoyer filed suit on behalf of two other former MetLife employees who contend they left the company under duress after trying to stop the sales practices.
"This was inevitable," said Chris Hoyer, referring to the class-action suit filed Monday. Hoyer said his Tampa firm, James, Hoyer, Newcomer & Skye, represents six medical professionals who bought MetLife life insurance policies that they were led to believe were something else. Dozens more in Florida and other states have contacted the law firm, he said.
"The response has been such that we've even considered getting an 800 number," Hoyer said.
For its part, MetLife has admitted that "mistakes" were made in its Tampa office. It has tried to fix them by bringing new managers into the office and by revising company policies to limit district salespeople to local areas.
It also said it has offered refunds or exchanges to nurses nationwide. As of last week, about half of those who responded to the offer either asked for refunds or exchanges for annuities, Sahner said.