Are Life Insurers Biased Or Just Careful?

Last September, Lani Perkins decided that her 72-year-old mother, Pok Dong Kim, needed life insurance. Kim, a Korean-born U.S. citizen living in San Francisco, applied for a $10,000 policy from Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. To her surprise, the company rejected her a month later because she did "not meet our language requirements for the ability to understand English," according to an Oct. 11, 1994, letter. "We were shocked and upset," says Perkins. In May, Kim, Perkins, and her husband filed a lawsuit, believed to be the first of its kind, against Northwestern for national-origin discrimination.

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