Houston, Texas-based title firm Stewart, the smallest of the Big Four title insurance companies, has come under fire from New York Attorney General Letitia James for business practices that “hurt worker and limit their earning potential,” according to an announcement on Thursday.
An investigation by James’s office found that Stewart has entered into illegal no-poaching agreements with several of its competitors, thwarting labor competition.
Stewart issues title insurance policies either directly through its own agency or indirectly through independent title insurance agencies. In this model, direct title agents and independent agencies are competitors in the labor market and should therefore be able to compete for employees. However, Stewart’s no-poach policies with other firms prevented that from happening, reducing career opportunities and wages for workers.
“No-poach agreements harm New York workers and break New York laws,” James said in a statement. “When business owners collude to stifle workers’ abilities to earn higher salaries and grow within their career fields, it hurts hardworking New Yorkers. Businesses that try to hold workers hostage will face the consequences of their illegal actions.”
According to James, direct agents and independent agencies are competitors in the labor market and should compete for employees on the basis of salaries, benefits, and career opportunities. Due to the insurer’s “no-poach” policies, however, this did not occur.
As a result of the investigation, Stewart must end any existing no-poach agreements, pay the state $2.5 million and cooperate with any ongoing investigations into the industry.
“Stewart has cooperated fully with New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office in her investigation of competition in the labor market. Stewart’s management team (current and former) and its employees conduct the company’s business with the utmost integrity and according to its Core Values and Code of Business Conduct and Ethics,” a spokesperson for the company wrote in an email. “The company has a policy against anti-competitive practices of any kind and has agreed to terminate any existing no-poach agreements and to pay a monetary settlement of $2.5 million to put this matter behind us.”
This is not the first no-poach agreement to be called into question in recent months. In July 2022, James’s office ended no-poach agreements made by AmTrust, as well as those made by Old Republic in September of 2021.