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One woman described receiving an image of Kenny Parcell’s crotch in a text message. Another recalled the National Association of Realtors’ president asking for help tucking in his shirt in a way that felt “sexually suggestive.”
And a third former NAR employee, Janelle Brevard, signaled through a lawyer that the harassment suit against the organization she withdrew in July was “settled” only as a result of “feeling intimidated by such a powerful adversary.”
In interviews with 29 current and former NAR employees, including 19 who claimed to have endured sexual harassment on the job, a long-anticipated exposé released Saturday in The New York Times described a culture of harassment, retaliation and evasion running through not only the 1.56 million-member group but subsidiaries and boards of companies its executives sit on.
“I’m scared every day coming to work,” said Amy Swida, a director of business meetings and events at the organization who, along with four other current employees, filed an internal complaint against Parcell.
The jaw-dropping report rolled out under a steady drumbeat of anticipation over the past month as a whisper network of Realtors exchanged stories online and at real estate conferences. At Connect Las Vegas earlier this month, Brad Inman publicly referred to an upcoming story in the publication, while others have suggested a wide-reaching fallout inside the 115-year-old institution.
“There is the sexual harassment, and then woven into it, this culture of fear,” Stephanie Quinn, a former director of business meetings and events, told The Times.
In a statement to The Times, and in responses to specific allegations, the National Association of Realtors was insistent it had acted responsibly and responded to complaints properly while repeatedly denying any wrongdoing.
“We follow clear reporting procedures to investigate any issue of concern brought to our attention and take corrective action as needed, up to and including staff termination and member suspension,” the statement concludes.
Before leaving NAR last year after more than a decade at the organization, Quinn said she observed Parcell attempt to arrange meetings with younger colleagues at night and that she was constantly expected to hug the president. After she blocked one such hug, Parcell turned cold and shortly after raised issues with her work. NAR said it never received a complaint from Quinn.
In written answers, Parcell told The Times he never reached out to anyone “younger” or “late at night” and denied any accusations of sexual harassment.
Swida, who remains an employee at NAR, described to the news outlet a “tense” office environment in which she and others believed they were being watched by executives. She and others all described a “system of intimidation,” that, for Swida, revealed itself after Parcell grew “cruel” when she became visibly pregnant.
After that, she told the paper that Parcell began to slice and dice her job responsibilities, including pulling her out of a major leadership meeting when she refused to allow him to negotiate directly with a vendor.
“I was never cruel to Ms. Swida,” Parcell said in a response to The Times.
In responses to The Times, and directly addressing Swida’s claim, NAR said it has “a strict no retaliation policy” and “her complaint was heard and documented.” Swida was promoted several months later, NAR added.
However, Suzi Dunkel-Soto, a Realtor based in California, said after a male colleague took a photo under her skirt during a NAR Leadership Academy graduation ceremony in 2018, her complaints to the organization’s chief legal officer were never returned. NAR told The Times it “addressed this incident appropriately with the male Realtor involved,” but declined to elaborate further.
“Everything gets brushed under the rug,” Dunkel-Soto, 57, told The Times.
In other cases, NAR employees revealed moments when Parcell, who was named the organization’s president in January, appeared to push boundaries. During one conference in Washington, D.C., in 2018, Jennifer Braun, NAR’s current senior events producer, made a report to the organization’s human resources department alleging improper behavior after Parcell asked her for help tucking in his dress shirt and then stuck his hand in his pants.
In a separate incident, Parcell was accused of sending pictures of his crotch to two employees traveling to Utah, where Parcell resides, for work involving his promotions leading up to his term as president. In a statement to The Times, NAR claims the images sent by Parcell were of a NAR-sponsored belt buckle that the organization was producing as part of a promotional push.
In both cases, NAR insisted the allegations had been investigated and addressed.
For Roshani Sheth, who filed a discrimination complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights after she was fired in 2019 as a product manager of NAR subsidiary Realtors Information Network, speaking up led to retribution.
After filing an original complaint in which she described being the only woman or person of color among her coworkers, including a superior who she said stared at her breasts and dismissed her ambition as “unattractive,” the Chicago-based employee received text messages calling her a “rat” and suggesting she kill herself.
The allegations are now being investigated by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to The Times.
And at Move, Inc., the parent company of Realtor.com, which NAR licenses, the former senior vice president of industry relations claimed in a 2020 harassment lawsuit that her employers poo-poohed sexually charged conversations at work events, dismissed the male colleagues who made the comments as “being boys” and referred to an International Women’s Day event as “meaningless,” according to The Times.
That case was settled in 2021, a spokesperson for Move told the paper. Parcell is among two NAR executives who currently sit on Move’s nine-member advisory board, according to The Times.
But it was perhaps complaints made by Janelle Brevard, the organization’s former chief storyteller, that may have drawn the scrutiny that ultimately led to The Times investigation.
In June, Brevard, whose job description had included overseeing podcasts and marketing responsibilities, filed a lawsuit claiming that, following a monthslong relationship with Parcell, she was fired not long after ending the arrangement, but not before barring her from several meetings and business trips. Throughout the ordeal, he continued to make advances and threatened to fire her, according to the complaint, which also referred to separate cases of harassment with other women.
Although Brevard, who is Black, withdrew her lawsuit just nine days after filing it, a lawyer representing the woman told The Times the decision to settle her case in July with a severance package that includes $107,000 and lawyers fees was made, not because her case lacked merit, but because of the immense power the organization wields.
“Feeling intimidated by such a powerful adversary, she agreed to promptly settle her case,” Bruce Fox, a lawyer who began representing Brevard in August, told The Times, noting that Brevard is still held to a non-disclosure agreement.
The Times investigation comes amid the backdrop of a rising backlash against sexual harassment in the real estate industry.
Beyond the accusations against NAR and Parcell, a lawsuit in February accused former eXp Realty agents of drugging and assaulting female colleagues at industry events while eXp World Holdings CEO Glenn Sanford has been accused of turning a blind eye to the behavior. In recent years, professionals at Keller Williams and Remine have also been accused of problematic behavior.
In an op-ed published earlier this month that, through the lens of Saturday’s Times story, now reads as a preemptive defense, NAR CEO Bob Goldberg said he was “immensely proud” of the work NAR has done to combat sexual harassment and abuse, including creating a code of conduct around harassment issues for members and requiring all employees and volunteer leaders to take sexual harassment and discrimination training annually.
“As important as training is, we also ensure our staff and members know that, if a claim of harassment is made, we investigate it thoroughly and follow the leads wherever they go,” Goldberg wrote.
“We have investigated every claim we have received from or about an employee or member and, when the findings call for it, take decisive action, up to and including staff termination and suspension of members, as determined by NAR or a local association depending on the context. If such claims involve a member of NAR’s leadership team or executives, we work with independent, outside law firms in our investigations to avoid any perception of biased outcomes.”
In an email sent to NAR employees that went out on Aug. 17, Goldberg shared with employees the statement that NAR sent The Times in response to their reporting.
“NAR does not tolerate discrimination, harassment or retaliation. Any incident is one too many,” the statement reads. “We follow clear reporting procedures to investigate any issue of concern brought to our attention and take corrective action as needed, up to and including staff or member termination. We urge people to report unlawful or inappropriate behavior. NAR has multiple policies and resources in place to deter inappropriate behavior, including anti-harassment and bystander intervention trainings, and escalation protocols to ensure people are respected. We will remain persistent in continuing to look at and adopt additional best practices.”
Goldberg wrote in the internal email that the trade group would seek to make improvements based on input from employees.
“No employer will ever be perfect. But I’m proud of the strides we’ve made in recent years and, in keeping with our Core Value of Leading Change, will continue to seek ongoing improvement as an employer and workplace,” he wrote. “That will be possible only if we continue to ask for – and listen to – your input, to which we are committed.”
To Leigh Brown, a North Carolina Realtor who served as the organization’s vice president of advocacy in 2021 and echoed other employees’ descriptions of a culture of fear at NAR, the damage wrought by a select few executives threatens to harm the storied reputation of an institution that dates back to 1908, the year Henry Ford introduced the Model T to the world.
“I hate to see my organization suffer because of the actions of a few,” Brown said.