CRE Exec's Sexual Assault Inspires National 'Carrie's Law' Campaign For Survivors
In May 2018, when Carrie Bobb arrived at the ICSC RECon conference in Las Vegas, she felt high-profile, even in a city filled with casinos and celebrities. A successful broker for CBRE in San Diego where she managed a $2B portfolio, Bobb, 39, was set to receive a national award for character, creativity and excellence in business at one of the largest events on the commercial real estate calendar; the ballroom where the event took place featured 20-foot-tall photos of her. The night after she was presented with the honor, she went out for a white-tablecloth dinner with a leading male executive at the firm.
That night, Bobb alleges, she was drugged, sexually assaulted and raped by the executive (a toxicology report evaluated by a third party would later show she had date rape drugs in her system). Three days later, she filed a report with the Las Vegas Police and as of Nov. 9, the case is “under review and investigation," per the Clark County District Attorney’s office. No charges have been filed. The accused employee has not worked for CBRE since 2018.
But when she went to find justice via her company and potentially file a civil lawsuit, she found her options were curtailed by her employment contract. Due to a mandatory arbitration clause — a mechanism that sends cases to a private, non-public system of legal resolution that often favors the employer — she was legally barred from talking about the situation or case with anybody. She couldn’t even warn other co-workers they were working with an alleged predator.
“Arbitration with sexual assault is a mechanism for companies,” she said. “If something bad happens, they can pull the lever and make the victim disappear. Your world is completely leveled, and you have to sit there and negotiate. And the process you go through is worse than the incident itself.”
Bobb found herself in a nightmarish situation, one that the Economic Policy Institute estimates could be possible for up to 60 million Americans who have, perhaps unwittingly, signed arbitration agreements as part of their mandatory employment contracts. Bobb was angry. But the realization she was one of many to experience this situation, and could help prevent others from a similar fate, has led her to launch a public campaign to make the use of these agreements in cases of sexual assault illegal, which would free victims from confidentiality agreements and allow them to speak freely about similar incidents.
Bobb’s campaign against arbitration clauses has two main strategies. The first is pushing companies to voluntarily agree to get rid of the portions of their employment agreements that mandate arbitration for cases of sexual assault. So far, she’s convinced nine CRE firms, as well as Intel, Microsoft and Uber, to join up.
“I want businesses to step into this,” Bobb said. “I don’t want companies to be defensive and try to protect themselves. What happens when they try and protect themselves is they unintentionally protect predators. I don’t want it to be about shaming or getting back at a company. There are a million other companies out there who can do some good, and that’s what I want to focus on.”
After a year of lobbying several lawmakers in Washington, D.C., she’s also inspired federal legislation to make these agreements illegal. On Oct. 16, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) introduced Carrie's Law to the House of Representatives. The bill, if it becomes law, would exclude sexual assault and rape from arbitration clauses in employment contracts. (Other attempts to pass similar legislation in the past have stalled, and there’s a question around whether state attempts at similar legislation would be pre-empted by federal law.) It is awaiting passage in the Judiciary Committee before going to the full House for a vote.
David Noll, a Rutgers law professor and expert on arbitration law, said that Carrie’s Law would “certainly make a difference” for survivors of sexual assault, and would change the legal exposure for companies, making them liable for higher settlements. While Carrie’s Law is more narrowly focused than other arbitration reform efforts, such as the FAIR Act, Noll said that, with a potentially divided Congress, a more focused bill with bipartisan support has a better chance of becoming law.
“There’s a growing recognition the Supreme Court has swept too broadly in favor of arbitration, and we need congressional intervention,” Noll said.
Bobb feels especially proud of the stance that CRE companies have taken in support.
“CRE hasn’t had the best reputation in this space, so turning around and championing a law like this can be really important for our industry,” Bobb said.
Bobb’s decision to turn this incident into a national campaign grew out of the difficult months after the incident, where she took a year off from work and “went underground.” As she was dealing with the emotional toll of the incident, she was in the midst of mediation with her former employer. Her sister Christina, a lawyer and former Marine, told her, as she was deciding how to handle the aftermath, to “make the case about something more than money.” That led Bobb to turn down a payout and negotiate the right to get out of her confidentiality agreement. She received lost wages, and once mediation ended in May 2019, she could tell her story.
With time to think about the incident, she decided that she wanted to turn her story into a catalyst for change and help more workers avoid these situations, and the silence mandated by such agreements, as well as other forms of assault and abuse in the workplace.
“If we can say we don’t tolerate rape culture here, we can put a stop to sexual harassment,” she said. “Companies can’t afford to let sexual harassment escalate into rape."
Last summer in D.C., she met Lesko. A friend of her mother’s put her in touch with the legislator — “Lobbying is like a brokerage, it’s all about leveraging relationships,” Bobb said — who quickly took to the cause, drafted legislation, and found a co-sponsor in Bass.
“I think this law is long overdue,” Lesko said in an interview with Bisnow. “It’s very important for women. That’s why a lot of businesses have come on board endorsing the legislation.”
In addition to pushing for reform in Congress, Bobb also started a nonprofit last fall, the Carrie Bobb Foundation, that encourages companies to take their own action on this issue.
“I want good companies to get involved, and they should get a pat on the back for that,” she said. “We shouldn’t need legislation for this, companies should feel safe pulling rape out of their contract. If they don’t, why?”
Bobb’s campaign to raise awareness found many allies within the industry, especially boutique retail firms, including Western Retail Advisors in Phoenix and ROI Properties in Las Vegas.
Michael Nagy and Jeremy Zidell of RUE, a Dallas-based firm that specializes in brokerage consulting and advisory work for urban retail, knew Bobb from Nagy’s time at CBRE San Diego a few years ago. Both found Bobb’s determination to take her story and use it to make a lasting change inspiring, and lent their firm’s support.
“To go public with it and make lemonade out of lemons the way she did, it’s hard to not admire that, the strength it took,” Nagy said.
Both Nagy and Zidell said they wanted to “be among the first to raise their hands” and support the change. They’ve also said that they’ve never had such an arbitration clause in their contracts, and will be proactive about “cultural advancement” and gender equality.
Nagy said that in many cases, the large, publicly traded firms and REITs in CRE, like large public firms in many industries, often have that kind of language in contracts to “cover their butts on every turn.”
Bisnow reached out to some of the larger firms in the industry about Carrie’s Law. Cushman & Wakefield declined to respond to questions about the use of arbitration clauses. A JLL spokesperson said they don’t have any such arbitration clause around sexual assault cases.
A CBRE spokesperson said they have removed these clauses from their employment contracts, responding to questions about the Carrie’s Law campaign and Bobb’s case with the following statement:
“There is absolutely no place for sexual harassment or assault in our society — let alone in the workplace. It was with this belief and intent that we supported Carrie when she brought the incident to our attention. We recognize how courageous it is for anyone to come forward with sexual misconduct experiences, and how vitally important it is for them to receive internal support and guidance and to be free to publicly tell their story if they so choose.
"We proactively worked with Carrie and external experts to review and strengthen our policies and procedures for reporting and responding to incidents of sexual harassment and assault. With this in mind, last year, we eliminated any requirement of confidentiality in arbitration proceedings or negotiated settlements involving sexual harassment or assault. This year, we made the decision not to enforce arbitration for claims of physical sexual assault, and instituted a Reporter Support Unit, which is comprised of volunteers trained by third-party specialists, who assist reporters of sexual misconduct through the investigatory process.
"We have zero tolerance for sexual misconduct of any kind and have multiple avenues for reporting and assisting anyone who experiences or is aware of any serious misconduct. We are proud of our diverse and inclusive work environment that values and supports our employees.”
The legislation is in the House Judiciary Committee. Lesko said she’s pressuring committee leadership on both sides of the aisle to vote to advance the bill to the full House by the end of this session. If that doesn’t happen, she’ll resubmit next year.
Amid her campaigning, Bobb hasn’t left the industry. Last October, she launched her own eponymous firm in San Diego, Carrie Bobb & Co. She’s happy that many companies, in CRE and other industries, have joined the movement. She feels it underscores her approach, to help others see their ability to be heroes, and continue to draw in more support and momentum.
“I wasn’t always comfortable talking about this incident,” she said. “But once I realized I could help protect millions of people, it wasn’t scary to talk about, it was important.”
UPDATE, NOVEMBER 11, 10:00 A.M. ET: The story has been updated to reflect that Carrie Bobb received lost wages as part of her negotiations with CBRE; and that the accused employee has not worked at CBRE since 2018.