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Cresa Sued For Discrimination By Former Atlanta Market Leader

Cresa’s former market leader in Atlanta is suing the commercial brokerage, alleging she was the subject of age and gender discrimination by her superiors.

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Former Cresa market leader Lisa Dunavin is suing her former employer over an alleged pattern of age and gender discrimination.

Lisa Dunavin, who served as Cresa Atlanta market leader for 10 months starting April 2019, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Atlanta against Cresa Global for age and gender discrimination. Dunavin claims she was demeaned and antagonized by Cresa Managing Director Jim Byrd.

Dunavin, a 30-year commercial real estate veteran, was a senior managing director at Cushman & Wakefield before accepting the leadership role at Cresa. She was previously market leader for Cassidy Turley in Atlanta before the firm was acquired by DTZ in 2014 and then Cushman & Wakefield a year later.

She was fired in February after she was told her position was no longer justified, according to the lawsuit. She alleges she was terminated because she complained about Byrd to human resources and other Cresa executives.

Dunavin’s suit said she filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May, and the EEOC determined she had a right to sue in November.

“Byrd demeaned and undermined Dunavin and minimized her role and status in front of coworkers and support staff,” Dunavin's attorney, Chris Moorman, wrote in the suit.

According to the lawsuit, Byrd undermined Dunavin's hiring preference of a Black female candidate at one point.

“We do not like to hire women or blacks because it sets us up for a lawsuit,” Byrd told Dunavin, according to the suit.

Cresa has no people of color in either its C-suite or on its board, a November Bisnow analysis of the 17 largest national brokerages found, below the industry averages of 11% for C-suite roles and 11.9% for board seats filled by people of color. Four of the five C-suite executives serving under CEO Jim Underhill are White women, but the privately held company's 11-member board is entirely composed of White men.

Dunavin claims in the suit that she brought her concerns about “Byrd's offensive and sexist conduct” to the attention of Underhill, who suggested to Dunavin that it might be time for Byrd to retire. Underhill didn't respond to a Bisnow request for comment.

At one point early in Dunavin’s tenure at Cresa, the suit claims Byrd apologized for some of his behavior, allegedly telling Dunavin after she confronted him, “I know, I’m an asshole. I’ll try to do better.”

Dunavin claims his behavior toward her only worsened.

“The hostility Dunavin felt from Byrd grew into palpable antagonism. Employees in the office were aware of this,” the suit states. “Byrd’s treatment of Dunavin in front of others sometimes confused the staff, who indicated or complained to Dunavin that they were uncertain as to whom they reported.”

Dunavin reported to Byrd and managing principals Bubba Chrismer and Tom Tindall, Cresa’s executive committee in Atlanta, according to the lawsuit. Earlier this year, the committee told Dunavin it was deferring her 2019 bonus due to her “rocky start,” adding that members also questioned whether Dunavin was “willing to get into the trenches,” according to the lawsuit.

After Dunavin sent a letter to the committee on Feb. 3 asking that it adhere to the terms of her offer letter, the firm eliminated her position four days later, the suit claims.

Calls to Byrd and Chrismer were not returned as of press time. Tindall, a Cresa board member, declined to comment and said the firm’s attorney would be issuing a statement. Bisnow hasn't received a statement as of press time.

Dunavin didn't return calls seeking comment. Moorman declined to comment on the suit, but he said he believes Dunavin's role was filled by the executive committee, rather than a replacement.