Six former sales employees of Realtor.com operator Move Inc. have filed a lawsuit alleging they were the victims of an “abusive” and “toxic” work environment where they were fed lies about Move’s products that they then “innocently” repeated to Realtors.
The March 9 complaint alleges that Move, its parent company News Corp., the National Association of Realtors, and former Move executives Leo Jay and William “Bill” Sperry conspired to create a workplace where the plaintiffs were discriminated against on the basis of their age, religion, disability, sex, and/or race.
The complaint also alleges the defendants stole the sales reps’ commissions and distributed them amongst themselves.
Specifically, the complaint alleges that the defendants gave the sales reps information about the quality and quantity of their products and services, including the “exclusive” nature of the products, and told them to offer agents discounts, preferred pricing, and other incentives in order to make sales.
However, the complaint continues, that information was, unbeknownst to the sales reps, “frequently false” and part of a “scheme to defraud customers/clients through each plaintiff ” and then charge back or claw back the plaintiffs’ commissions. This “claw-back policy” was “more harshly applied” to sales reps over the age of 40, according to the complaint.
“Defendants knew that the information was false and incorrect and never had any intent to honor such pricing, incentives and discounts,” the complaint states.
“Moreover, when customers and clients discovered the fraudulent and false information, Defendants would blame each Plaintiff (and other salespersons) to the customer, punish each Plaintiff and remove the potential sale from each Plaintiff’s sales’ opportunities,” the complaint continued.
The plaintiffs’ attorney also alleged sales commissions were deducted from wages when customers canceled sales after learning that they were lied to, thereby forcing the sales reps “to become an insurer of the employer’s business.”
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for News Corp. and Move told Inman, “We believe the allegations are without merit and we intend to vigorously defend against them.”
A spokesperson for NAR told Inman, “We have not been served, and NAR is not a joint employer as incorrectly alleged, so we expect to be dismissed from the lawsuit.”
The discrimination alleged in the 88-page complaint includes providing the plaintiffs, on the basis of their membership in a protected class, with fewer resources, lesser quality assignments, lesser compensation and job benefits, less credit for accomplishments, harsher criticism and discipline, inaccurate and unfair performance reviews, fewer promotions, and less respect for their professional opinions.
The plaintiffs also allege they were “unfairly and disparately denied access to meetings, information, sales leads, resources, pricing incentives, correct information and other assistance that was available” to other colleagues.
According to the complaint, News Corp., Move and NAR “produced a culture of racism, sexism, discrimination, harassment and retaliation” and failed to do the training, background checks, and supervising that would have promoted a work environment free of discrimination and harassment.
Instead of addressing discrimination complaints, the defendants allegedly retaliated against the plaintiffs making the complaints with “less favorable working conditions and severe and blatant disparate treatment,” including “hostile, unprofessional, unlawful and tyrannical” behavior from Leo Jay, formerly Move’s vice president of sales.
This forced the plaintiffs to take steps such as adjusting their “schedule, walking path, duties and efforts to avoid racist and discriminatory interactions with the identified managers and Supervisors who perpetrated such conduct,” the complaint said.
“Each Plaintiff had to work longer hours (for which they were not paid), expend more energy and effort (physical and emotional) and work with less support (resources, interaction with supervisors and management), etc. to attempt to minimize the pervasiveness of the hostile and discriminatory environment.”
The complaint alleges 20 counts against the defendants, including negligence; breach of contract; theft of sales commissions; unfair competition; fraud and deceit; age, gender, race, religious and disability discrimination; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and whistleblower retaliation.
This is not the first time former employees have made such allegations against Move. In January 2018, former Move sales rep Brian Bobik alleged he was wrongfully terminated from Move, in retaliation for objecting to and refusing to participate in what he believed to be unlawful conduct as well as for requesting accommodations for a disability. Bobik alleged sales reps were instructed to sell agents bogus leads and lie to them about the terms of their contracts with the company and the exclusivity of the leads.
In addition, Bobik alleged that if agents canceled a credit card after being unhappy with the leads Realtor.com provided for a particular ZIP code, Jay would instruct Move sales reps to continue charging the agent for the underperforming ZIP code using another credit card the agent had on file — without the agent’s permission.
And in September 2020, Suzanne Mueller, Move’s former senior vice president of industry relations, alleged the company discriminated against her on the basis of sex and age and failed to provide “a safe working environment and failed to adequately supervise employees.” She also alleged Move retaliated against her for participating in a sexual harassment investigation against a NAR executive.
Both lawsuits settled.
What has your experience been with Move and Realtor.com sales reps? Let us know in the comments below.
Read the complaint:
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from NAR.