Former NKF Employee Sues Firm For Sexual Harassment
An administrative assistant who was fired from Newmark Knight Frank for underperformance has filed a lawsuit against the brokerage, arguing she only lost her job as retaliation for her complaints about being sexually harassed by Vice Chairman Merrill Roth.
In a lawsuit filed in the Manhattan Federal Court, Jeannie Holohan claims that she was sacked last December, soon after she spoke to human resources about inappropriate comments and behavior from Roth, The Real Deal reports.
The suit alleges that on various occasions in 2017, Roth made sexually suggestive comments to Holohan, and that he invaded her personal space.
"On a number of occasions, between in or around the end of July 2017 through in or [a]round the beginning of August 2017, Defendant Roth required Plaintiff [Holohan] to come into his office and sit directly next to him to review and make edits to a presentation," the suit said.
"On one occasion, Defendant Roth intentionally leaned in towards Plaintiff, as he reached for various items on his desk, while reviewing the project with Plaintiff. On another occasion, Plaintiff corrected Defendant Roth on an error. In response, he grabbed the paper from Plaintiff and told her, 'You think you're so smart, don't you? I wonder what else you are good at?'
"Plaintiff took this comment as an unwanted and unlawful sexual advance."
On another occasion, the suit alleges that Roth said to Holohan, "You know I'm not a sexual monster. But my wife thinks I am."
During a separate occasion, when she considered leaving work to buy clothes to suit the company’s summer dress policy, he allegedly called her into his office and looked her up and down saying, “I have no problem with what I see here at all.”
Later in 2017, the suit alleges that a "hostile work environment" existed for Holohan, as Roth found errors in her work, and other employees besides Roth gave her a hard time. Holohan was given a formal warning on Nov. 21, according to the suit, for “attitude and insubordinate behavior.”
Eventually, she asked for a transfer from working with Roth.
She requested the transfer on Nov. 28 and had a meeting with HR about Roth’s alleged conduct. In the meeting she said when she did not give in to Roth’s advances, errors started appearing in her work. On Dec. 6 she was terminated from her position, according to the suit.
Newmark denies the charges against Roth and the company.
“The company takes seriously its obligation to provide each of its employees with a respectful and dignified workplace free of harassment and discrimination,” said a spokesperson for Newmark in a statement, adding that an internal investigation found that the allegations were "baseless" and the company plans to “vigorously” defend itself.
There have been a number of harassment and discrimination suits filed against real estate firms and/or execs this year.
Last month, the investment arm of the Kuwaiti government fired its head of real estate, Frank Lively, following allegations he sexually harassed and discriminated against a female vice president at the company for six years.
In May, tenant representative firm Cresa reached a settlement with a former broker who sued the firm, claiming that she had been discriminated against, harassed and denied promotions because of her gender and sexuality.
A former creative director at The Lightstone Group filed a suit in April, saying that she was fired after she took time to be with her daughter over the Rosh Hashanah weekend, and that the firm’s president, Mitchell Hochberg, sexually harassed her. Lightstone has filed a response in court, denying the allegations.