Silhouettes of a group of business people with the National Association of Realtors logo.
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Allegations paint picture of sexual harassment, ‘culture of fear’ at NAR 

A New York Times article details complaints from women about NAR and its president's “predatory” behavior.

August 26, 2023
4 minutes

Key points:

  • The Times talked to 29 former leaders and employees about a years-long pattern of inappropriate behavior at NAR that includes harassment and intimidation.
  • Parcell denied wrongdoing and said his actions were “twisted and distorted.”
  • NAR CEO Bob Goldberg said the claims in the article were “either validated, and we took action; or not violations of the law or our Code of Conduct … or not true.”

A New York Times investigation into the National Association of Realtors paints a picture of systemic sexual harassment within the trade organization and highlights issues of intimidation, retaliation and "a culture of fear."

On Aug. 26, The Times published a story detailing multiple sexual harassment complaints from NAR employees, many targeting the association's president, Kenny Parcell. The Times spoke with 29 employees and former leaders who pointed to a longtime pattern of behavior that includes improper touching, lewd photos and texts.

"There is the sexual harassment, and then woven into it, this culture of fear," Stephanie Quinn, the organization's former director of business meetings and events, told the New York Times. Quinn, who worked at the organization for more than a decade, described Parcell's behavior as "predatory." 

"I feel like I was constantly screaming, 'This is so inappropriate,'" Quinn said.

Allegations from current and former female NAR employees included Parcell putting his hands down his pants in front of one woman and texting another woman a photo of his crotch. Hugs were also regularly expected at meetings, another woman claimed.

Throughout the story, Parcell denied engaging in any sexual harassment.

"I am a friendly and outgoing person in a world that is growing ever more cynical, conflicted, and cold," Parcell told the Times. "Well-intended actions on my part are being twisted and distorted."

'Everything gets brushed under the rug'

The article also delved into a "culture of keeping quiet," with several former NAR employees describing a longstanding practice within the organization of covering for those accused of wrongdoing.

A California Realtor, Suzi Dunkel-Soto, said after experiencing sexual harassment at an NAR event, her repeated calls to the organization's chief legal officer were ignored. "Everything gets brushed under the rug," Dunkel-Soto said.

The Times noted that many interview subjects were afraid to speak publicly about their experiences, fearing retribution, but some employees have been willing to come forward.

Five women, including three current employees who have filed complaints, described an intimidating workplace. Amy Swida, NAR's director of business meetings and events, told the Times "I'm scared every day coming to work." She also said she was kept from a major leadership meeting after refusing to let Parcell interfere with her duties.

In response to the allegations cited in the article, NAR CEO Bob Goldberg told Real Estate News that NAR or outside investigators had previously found "the claims to be either validated, and we took action; or not violations of the law or our Code of Conduct … or not true."

"I am deeply saddened when I read about these accounts, and even one complaint or issue is too many," Goldberg said. 

"Like any organization, we are not immune to these challenges, and every single allegation concerns us," said Goldberg. He later added that "NAR fully investigates claims brought to our attention and will determine if any new investigations are warranted."

The Times article also touched on several recent lawsuits against NAR, including one filed by a former chief storyteller in June accusing the organization of gender and racial discrimination, retaliation, and sexual harassment by Parcell. That lawsuit was filed by Janelle Brevard but withdrawn a month later. The Times reported that she settled for $107,000 and signed a non-disclosure agreement. 

NAR ramped up anti-harassment efforts in the wake of lawsuit

Earlier this month, NAR announced an expansion of its sexual harassment prevention training program — which Parcell has taken — to include 30 additional members of its member-elected leadership team. Earlier this year, NAR created its first-ever Diversity, Equity and Inclusion group.

However, even with more than $200,000 spent annually on anti-harassment and discrimination programs, CEO Bob Goldberg told Real Estate News there is still plenty of work to be done.

"We continue to analyze and reflect on everything we're doing in this space, from communication to reporting to training," Goldberg said in an email earlier this month after the policy updates were announced. "As in every organization, there's always room for improvement. But our ongoing commitment to excellence in the workplace and facilitating the very best partnerships between staff and members remains steadfast."

The comments on The Times story include a growing number of posts by real estate professionals describing negative experiences with sexual harassment in real estate and criticisms of NAR and its culture. Should those comments become official claims, they would be taken seriously, according to a statement made by Goldberg prior to the article's publication.

"Everything starts with reporting. It is critically important we all continue to urge staff and members to report concerns or experiences through their available channels at NAR or at their local or state association," Goldberg said.

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