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April 26, 1985


The opinion of the court was delivered by: TROUTMAN

 TROUTMAN, Senior District Judge.

 In July, 1946, plaintiff, Narcy R. Maley, began working as an insurance agent for defendant John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company. Mr. Maley began working in a managerial capacity in December, 1947. In March, 1970, he was appointed District Manager of Hancock's Allentown District Office, a position he held until his retirement in April, 1980.

 John Hancock is comprised of approximately 270 districts throughout the nation. A number of district offices are grouped together to form a region. The Allentown district office was one of eighteen (18) district offices which formed the defendant's East Central Region. A District office is run by a district manager whose responsibilities include: recruiting, training and supervising a sales and clerical staff; minimizing agent turnover; attaining sales objectives set by the home office; and maintaining intra-office proficiency and morale. Aside from the district manager the staff of a district office is comprised of several staff managers, each of whom supervises a team of agents, the agents themselves, an office supervisor and clerical workers.

 All district managers within a given region report to the field vice president responsible for that region. The field vice president reports to a second vice president who, in turn, reports to the senior vice president of the District Agency Department. From 1974 through the remainder of his employment with defendant, plaintiff's field vice president was Ronald Bair (Bair), his second vice president was Leroy Branton (Branton), and the senior vice president of the District Agency Department was A. William Rhodes (Rhodes).

 John Hancock has a practice of ranking its district offices nationwide from most productive to least productive. The Allentown office maintained a high national ranking at all times. Plaintiff won several company citations between the years 1970 and 1977 with a V.P. Trophy for outstanding achievement in 1977. On the whole, performance was good under plaintiff's control until the Spring of 1978. However, in 1974 Allentown's performance within the East Central Region began a gradual decline. In 1974 Allentown ranked fifth within the East Central Region in the category of "ordinary issue" *fn1" (Ex. D. 19). Allentown's ranking within the region had dropped to thirteenth in 1978 and had missed the production objective set by the home office by more than $1.2 million (Ex. D. 19). By 1979 Allentown ranked last in the region.

 Problems began to develop at Allentown in April, 1978, with the inception of a militant union movement in the office, which diverted the staff's attention and ultimately substantially reduced the volume of life insurance issued. Plaintiff stated during trial that ". . . a very bad and demoralizing atmosphere" pervaded the office as a result of the union movement and office performance in the summer of 1978 was disappointing.

 Allentown's problems worsened through 1979. Plaintiff testified that his clerical staff had formed cliques which would not cooperate with one another and that a negative attitude permeated the office staff. Plaintiff felt the office problems were attributable to the activities of at least one of his top producing agents and the inability of his office supervisor to control the clerical staff.

 In October, 1979, due to his health, plaintiff requested assistance from Branton. Branton conferred with Rhodes and decided that a meeting should be arranged with the plaintiff. Both Branton and Rhodes were of the opinion that plaintiff's performance was unsatisfactory, and some type of action was required.

 A meeting took place between plaintiff, Branton and Bair in Allentown on November 7, 1979. Plaintiff was informed of Hancock's dissatisfaction and concern regarding the decline in sales efforts and deepening morale problems in Allentown. Branton expressed concern that the inter-personal conflicts within the office would magnify the production problems in the future. Branton asked for plaintiff's suggestions to improve performance in Allentown. Plaintiff suggested the removal of his top producing agent and his office supervisor. Branton declined the suggestions because in his opinion they were unsubstantiated and neither action would improve conditions at Allentown. Plaintiff's superiors felt the source of the problem rested with the plaintiff in that he had lost credibility and the ability to deal with the people in his office.

 Several options were presented to the plaintiff during the November 7, 1979, meeting. Plaintiff was offered the position of District Manager of the Easton or Norristown offices. Plaintiff was also offered the position of staff manager in Allentown or the opportunity to go into personal production as an agent. The availability of early retirement was also discussed.

 Plaintiff rejected the options for continued employment with the defendant due to his poor state of health. Plaintiff stated during the meeting that he had suffered a heart attack in the early 1970's. After informing his superiors of his health problem, plaintiff inquired of Branton whether he would qualify for disability benefits. *fn2" Branton responded by asking if plaintiff's physician would sign the standard disability claim form known as Form 12-G. Plaintiff stated that his doctor would sign the form. Branton relied upon plaintiff's affirmative response and the production of a supporting Form 12-G when he stated to plaintiff that he would qualify for benefits. Branton testified at trial that it had never occurred to him that plaintiff could not substantiate his claim.

 Plaintiff was aware after the meeting on November 7, 1979, that there was no assurance that he would receive the disability benefits discussed and so stated to his wife. (See Deposition of Narcy R. Maley at 116). On November 15, 1979, plaintiff phoned Branton to discuss his plans. During the course of the conversation plaintiff read Branton the contents of a letter directed to Rhodes. in which plaintiff stated that he planned to take his accrued vacation for 1979 and 1980. If, at the conclusion thereof, he did not feel better, he would apply for disability and then take early retirement (Ex. P. 11). Initially, Branton approved the contents of the letter; however, after some thought he realized that the plaintiff had to be more specific as to the course of action he intended to take if he did not qualify for disability benefits. Branton then telephoned plaintiff and suggested language appropriate to convey his intentions. Both Branton and Rhodes testified at trial that it was imperative that the Company be made aware of plaintiff's future plans so they could act accordingly.

 Plaintiff, via the letter of November 16, 1979, conveyed his intentions to Rhodes. Plaintiff stated that after he took his accrued vacation for 1979 and 1980 he would apply for disability benefits and if, for some reason, he did not qualify he would then take early retirement (Ex. P. 1). Whereupon, plaintiff ...

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