Zillow has filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to dismiss a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by one of its former employees.
The suit, which was brought by Southern California law firm Geragos & Geragos on behalf of Rachel Kremer, alleged that she experienced an environment of “sexual torture” at Zillow’s office in Irvine, Calif., citing a number of vulgar texts between Kremer and Gabe Schmidt, a co-worker in the sales department.
Zillow’s motion paints a different picture, saying that Schmidt and Kremer were friends who regularly exchanged vulgar and inappropriate messages.
“Zillow’s motion to dismiss includes important facts — facts selectively withheld by the plaintiff and her lawyers in their original complaint – that show the plaintiff reciprocated in sending vulgar and inappropriate text messages over the course of a two-year friendship,” the company said in a statement emailed to GeekWire.
“We intend to vigorously defend this lawsuit. To be clear, the behavior exhibited in the complaint and in our motion by now former employees is inappropriate and has no place at Zillow. We do not tolerate this type of unacceptable behavior, and, in this case, we moved swiftly and fired two involved employees.”
Schmidt was one of the employees fired, according to sources close to the investigation.
Ben Meiselas, an attorney at Geragos & Geragos who is representing Kremer in her suit, fired back by saying that Zillow’s work culture contributed to Kremer’s behavior.
“As to the substance of their motion, what has become clear is that employees were encouraged by management to use foul language in order to maintain a paycheck at Zillow,” Meiselas said in a statement emailed to GeekWire. “Being brainwashed by this corporate culture does not invite actual unwanted sexual advances and physical touching.”
In addition to all of the wrangling over the sexual harassment suit, Zillow is facing a new complaint this week, filed by the same law firm, alleging that management in its Irvine office retaliated against another former employee who brought attention to ad sales that were fraudulent or in violation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.
James Friedrich, who was an Inside Sales Consultant at Zillow’s Irvine office, allegedly told Fagnant, his manager, about a co-worker who boosted his sales figures by fraudulently signing contracts by using a “dummy” email address as well as advertising accounts that were more than 50 percent funded by mortgage brokers, in violation of RESPA.
The complaint alleges Fagnant told Friedrich to “drop it” and to “stop hanging out” with two of his friends at the company who knew about the issues. One of those friends was Ashley Boehler, who brought a lawsuit against Zillow over its labor practices last month. After Friedrich emailed Zillow’s executive team to detail the problems, the suit claims that he faced retaliation from management including a reduction in inbound sales leads and getting passed over for multiple promotions.
The new case marks a total of 5 suits brought by Geragos & Geragos against Zillow, and the legal pressure doesn’t show any sign of stopping.
“We’ve received about 33 very, very, very, credible cases, that we’re just vetting right now,” Ben Meiselas, an associate at Geragos & Geragos, told GeekWire in an interview.
Meiselas said that he expects to file suit on most of those complaints, which touch on further issues of discrimination and retaliation, including religious discrimination and discrimination against an employee based on their disability. Meiselas said that a common theme among all the complaints is a “completely Animal House culture” along with retaliation against employees who stood up against it.
Zillow says that it’s looking into the latest lawsuit, and adds that the behavior it alleges is not representative of the company’s culture.
“This is the fifth lawsuit filed against Zillow in the past three weeks by the same firm, which is pushing a narrative completely inconsistent with those who know and work with Zillow,” a representative for the company said in a statement emailed to GeekWire.
“To be clear, we take any allegation about our workplace very seriously and are currently investigating these claims. The behavior described does not accurately depict our culture or the 1,200 Zillow employees who work hard and treat each other with dignity and respect. We do not have further comment on this particular suit.”
Zillow’s motion to dismiss and the new complaint against the company are embedded below.