Debra Kamin’s investigative report for The New York Times on sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation at NAR has sent shockwaves throughout the real estate industry.
In interviews with 29 current and former NAR employees and leaders, victims of alleged sexual harassment, discrimination and a toxic work environment inside NAR have broken their silence to reveal what Kamin described as “a yearslong pattern of harassment and retaliation at the organization.”
In addition to her interviews, Kamin also reviewed two lawsuits, a discrimination complaint and an internal memo sent to NAR’s human resources department. Her research showed that Janelle Brevard and “two other women filed formal harassment complaints. All three women were later offered severance payments that required them to sign nondisclosure agreements. NAR declined to comment.”
Moreover, “16 of the allegations examined by The Times of either sexual harassment or an abusive culture involved Mr. Parcell.”
Here we’ll look at the way NAR’s individual and organizational messaging has changed over time, both in the months leading up to and in the days since the Times article, including the lack of an adequate response from NAR leadership as recently as Aug. 28.
Parcell categorically denied the charges
In the face of 16 different women coming forward in Kamin’s article, Parcell still maintained that he had done nothing wrong. Kamin writes:
Through his lawyer, Mr. Parcell, 50, called the accusations against him “categorically false.”
“I am a friendly and outgoing person in a world that is growing ever more cynical, conflicted, and cold,” said Mr. Parcell in a statement. “Well-intended actions on my part are being twisted and distorted.”
When asked in an interview if the organization has an issue with sexual harassment, the N.A.R. chief executive Bob Goldberg said, “I would not characterize it as a problem.”
Monday afternoon, Parcell resigned. In his resignation, he continued to call the accusations “categorically false.”
NAR still failing to prioritize safety
Given Goldberg’s statement above, his response to the following staff member’s concern about her safety at the iOi, NAR’s real estate investment opportunities conference, in Miami which started Aug. 28, was bewildering. Keep in mind that this was before Kenny Parcell’s resignation, when he was still expected to appear at the conference.
About 15 minutes later, this staff member received the following message:
Parcell is “aware of our general concern … and he understands”? How about the staff member above who is terrified and all the other staff who feel the same way she does — where’s the concern for them and their safety?
NAR may not tolerate sexual harassment, but what about this leadership team?
As of August 23, 2023, NAR CEO Bob Goldberg was still claiming that NAR does not tolerate discrimination, harassment or retaliation of any kind. He made the following statement:
Good afternoon –
Some of you may have seen the post from Tracy Kasper that appeared on The Hub earlier today. I want to take this opportunity to reiterate her message and make it unequivocally clear that NAR does not tolerate discrimination, harassment or retaliation of any kind and enforces a zero-tolerance policy whenever such violations are found to have occurred. In fact, I recorded a video addressing this topic not long ago, which is part of the harassment prevention training program for staff currently in progress.
If you saw me on stage with Tracy during the closing session of Leadership Summit, I spoke about my belief in Leadership in the Sunshine; specifically, the importance of sharing with employees everything that’s going on – good, bad, or otherwise. My commitment to that management philosophy remains as strong today as it was the day I became your CEO some six years ago.
With that in mind, I wanted to provide you with a heads up regarding a New York Times article addressing harassment in the real estate industry that we expect to be published any day now. Unfortunately, we’re anticipating a negative piece that — in addition to focusing on industry situations — touches on NAR and our culture as an employer.
We understand your concern about the forthcoming coverage. Please know that we’re doing everything in our power to correct the record, defend the great work we do, and maintain our reputation as a Great Place to Work. When given the opportunity to do so, we provided the New York Times reporter with the following statement:
NAR does not tolerate discrimination, harassment or retaliation. Any incident is one too many. 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.
Deny, deny, deny
First, Goldberg’s statement about the NYT article being about the industry is false. It was exclusively devoted to the sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation inside NAR.
Second, if “one incident is too many,” how can he justify overlooking 16 alleged incidents?
Third, according to Inman’s Christy Murdock, NAR has been spinning this story since at least December 2022. The issues Murdock raises in her article “NAR’s sexual harassment spin isn’t fooling anyone. Here’s why” are substantial.
Long before the NYT article was published or even rumored to exist, however, NAR’s PR machine was hard at work, publishing content about the strides it’s making on sexual harassment both on NAR’s own site and elsewhere.
These included blog-style posts plus a PowerPoint presentation prepared by NAR Deputy General Counsel and Vice President of Legal Affairs and Antitrust Compliance Lesley M. Muchow.
On Aug. 15, 2023, RISMedia published an editorial by NAR CEO Bob Goldberg headlined, “Op-Ed: NAR looks to lead fight against workplace harassment.” The article was subsequently posted on NAR’s own website and run by RISMedia as a sponsored advertisement through Google Ads as the first source for the search term: NAR sexual harassment.
Prior to that, and at around the same time that rumors of an upcoming New York Times exposé were made public at Inman Connect Las Vegas, NAR published another article on its website headlined, “NAR Prioritizes a Respectful Workplace” on Aug. 10, 2023.
That article includes the following passage, along with a quote from Goldberg:
As sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace reaches a new level of consciousness in society, the National Association of Realtors says it is committed to providing a productive and welcoming environment for its 350 full-time staff members. This means making clear that discrimination, harassment and retaliation will never be tolerated by the association, including within employee workspaces and at NAR-sanctioned events, says CEO Bob Goldberg. And it means doing everything possible to create and maintain a culture that pays proper respect to the immense amount of trust placed in the association.
Even earlier, in Feb. 2023, an article headlined “Stopping Sexual Harassment” began with this:
The National Association of Realtors’ Q2 2022 Quarterly Risk Report details how the number of sexual harassment claims filed under NAR’s Professional Liability Insurance Program through October 2022 have dramatically increased, outnumbering similar claims filed in 2021, 2020 and 2019.
Janelle Brevard was fired from her job in September 2022, alleging in her subsequently withdrawn lawsuit that she told Kenny Parcell at the end of Q2 2022, that she wanted to end their relationship.
What the NAR Code of Conduct says
There’s no question that NAR has promulgated a voluminous amount of guidance and standards of practice required of both Realtors and staff. The NAR Code of Conduct clearly states the association’s stance on discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, how reporting of these incidents should take place, and how they should be investigated.
In an article dated June 30, 2023, Inman reported:
Days after a new lawsuit accused the National Association of Realtors and President Kenny Parcell of sexual and racial harassment, the trade organization revealed it previously knew about and investigated the claims — and reiterated that it rejects them — even as industry members demanded accountability on Friday.
In a statement to Inman on Friday, NAR spokesperson Mantill Williams said his organization “prides itself on being a welcoming and inclusive environment for all our employees,” and that it investigates claims of misconduct. Significantly, the statement also reveals that NAR “previously, thoroughly investigated the claims in this lawsuit by hiring an independent, outside law firm to conduct the investigation and advise on lawful outcomes.”
Based on the findings of that independent, third-party investigation, we reject the claims filed in this lawsuit and we will vigorously defend against them.
So, Bob Goldberg knew about the claims, but rejected them. Apparently, based upon the information above, he still does.
Kamin’s article is not just about Kenny Parcell — it’s about systemic issues at NAR
Debra Kamin’s investigative report has revealed troubling allegations of harassment and discriminatory practices within NAR. While Kenny Parcell was a central figure in these claims, Kamin’s story suggests that the issues are much more widespread.
Murdock made the following observation about Kamin’s article in a post on her blog:
Yes, Parcell is a big part of this story, but reporter Debra Kamin goes out of her way to show that this is a systemic issue and goes further than his alleged behavior. There’s information about the culture at Move Inc. There’s talk about behavior at events. This is not an isolated incident.
Although CEO Bob Goldberg proclaims NAR’s commitment to a harassment-free environment, Murdock’s research shows that the current NAR leadership team was spinning these stories as far back as December of 2022. Goldberg continues to fall short in terms of creating a safe workplace for the staff for whom he is responsible.
Although these issues alone are alarming, there’s an even larger issue lurking over this NAR leadership team. That will be covered in a forthcoming analysis.
Bernice Ross, president and CEO of BrokerageUP and RealEstateC