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Zillow Sued Again: Disgusting Racist Tampon Jokes, Blaring Techno Music, Being Jerks
On the heels of a lawsuit filed against Zillow for sexual harassment, the real estate startup now faces a new suit accusing supervisors at an Orange County office of discriminating employees based on race, age and religion.
Geragos & Geragos—the same legal group that's working with a plaintiff named Rachel Kremer filing a sexual harassment suit against Zillow—filed five new lawsuits yesterday. Each plaintiff, like Kremer, was employed at the Orange County office. A text Kremer says she received from Gabe Schmidt, one of the supervisors she named in her sexual harassment suit, appears in these documents as well.The suit claims he texted her a disgusting, racist joke that read: "Joke of the day - A black woman can tell if she is pregnant if she pulls out her tampon and all the cotton has been picked off."
Schmidt has since been let go. Katie Curnutte, Zillow's Senior Director of Communications and Public Affairs, provided the following statement in regards to the text message.
Zillow does not—and will not—tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind. We have just been notified of this complaint and are currently investigating these allegations. The referenced text messages reflect completely unacceptable behavior, and the individual allegedly responsible was already terminated as the result of a separate investigation. The alleged behavior is completely inconsistent with Zillow's culture and core values, where we work hard to create and maintain a work environment that is safe, comfortable and inclusive for everyone.
The now-fired Schmidt was one of the main offenders in Kremer's sexual harassment suit, but the new lawsuit is much broader.
According to the documents filed by Geragos & Geragos, three African-American men—Stephen Johnson, Reginald Peterson and Ryan Seda—are all suing Zillow, alleging that they were discriminated against by supervisors because of their race. They say they were all hired around June of 2012 under different managers, but were eventually all moved to be on the team led by Edward Cornelius, the only black sales manager. The men say they were referred to by Senior Sales Manager Jon Boller as "Samuel Jackson" and "Bagger Vance," and, when all together, as the "NAACP black coalition." The suit also alleges that the men were moved to the back of the sales office and that certain sales calls were directed to other employees who were not black. Older employees—like Johnson, 45—claim younger supervisors told them they couldn't keep up with younger employees. Conditions did not improve when the men complained about their treatment.
Seda also alleges that he was told he had to remove his Zillow profile photo which read "God over money" and "Thank you lord" because he was told there was no place for religious imagery in the office. However, he says other employees were allowed to keep Zillow avatars that featured them smoking, taking shots or partying. Throughout the series of lawsuits filed on behalf of former Zillow employees by Geragos & Geragos, the lawyers have spoken of a pervasive "adult frat culture" they say existed in the Orange County Zillow office.
Another plaintiff, Michael Kerr, alleges that he has suffered hearing damage due to supervisors yelling in his ear and being subjected to techno music being blasted in the sales office. When he complained about the music, he says supervisors simply moved him so that he had to work directly next to the speaker. Kerr said he measured the music and found it was between 80-100 decibels. Kerr's doctor told him that he lost 40 percent of his hearing due to "high volume sound-related damage," and that he will have ringing in his ears for life. When Kerr complained again, his managers told him his hearing loss was due to his age. When Kerr said he wanted to file a worker's compensation claim, he was told by his supervisors that he could either continue to work or quit—so he quit.
Jason Youseph claims that his supervisors retaliated against him when he had to have surgery on a herniated disk. He was first put on probation because he had to undergo two weeks of physical therapy, then told that he had to make up 2,100 minutes of sales calls. Youseph said this task was practically impossible and so he was required to put a letter reprimanding him on display on his desk when he did not meet the goal. Youseph said that when he finally made up the minutes, Gabe Schmidt told him he should rip up the letter as a reward. Soon after, Youseph needed another surgery. He was told he was being fired for "insubordination" because he ripped up the letter.
The documents also included an email that told employees it was not okay to take their lunch breaks when lunch was provided for them.
Zillow recently filed a motion to dismiss Kremer's lawsuit, admitting that while the sexually-charged texts were inappropriate, she often reciprocated and initiated lewd messages, the O.C. Register reports. Zillow issued the following response to us:
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. We intend to vigorously defend this lawsuit.
In response, attorney Geragos & Geragos attorney Ben Meiselas argued that any dirty language aside, Kremer's supervisors asked her for sex and that's the issue. He said in a statement printed in the OC Register, "I really thought that we moved beyond the blame-the-victim culture. The fact that they brainwashed people into using foul language doesn't mean that it's OK to have unwanted sexual advances."
These new suit join Kremer's and others including one accusing Zillow of denying meal breaks and not paying overtime and another second from an employee who says he was retaliated against for exposing credit card fraud and other corruption, the OC Register reports. Geragos and Geragos is behind each suit, which Zillow representatives say "is pushing a narrative completely inconsistent with those who know and work with Zillow." Curnutte told LAist that in her seven years in the Seattle-based Zillow office, she's never experienced anything like what's in the lawsuits.
Mark Geragos of Geragos & Geragos is currently embroiled in another case that's been making headlines. He's the lawyer of pop singer Ke$ha, who alleges that she was sexually abused by songwriter and producer Lukasz Gottwald, better known as Dr. Luke. Gottwald is suing Geragos for insinuating via Twitter that Gottwald sexually assaulted Lady Gaga, following a December 2 appearance on The Howard Stern Show in which Lady Gaga said she had been raped by someone in the industry when she was 19, The Guardian reports.