Nationwide Accused of Anti-Minority Bias

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COLUMBUS, Ohio: Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. says it's "on your side." But according to a slew of lawsuits and the testimony of at least six Nationwide agents, it depends which side you're on. Residents in seven states have filed lawsuits accusing the company of "redlining," in other words refusing to insure people who live in certain undesirable locations. "They wrote out zip codes where agents weren't allowed to pursue business," said Shanna Smith, executive director of the National Fair Housing Alliance, which has been investigating Nationwide since 1991. Those addresses were almost exclusively neighborhoods dominated by blacks and Latinos, she said. Nationwide denies that it did any such thing and says it is working on a plan to increase the business it does in minority areas. That's not good enough, say plaintiffs, who want the Justice Department to take action against the insurer.