Cresa broker files gender, sexual discrimination lawsuit against principals

Jamie Addeo claims verbal abuse and retaliation are part of effort to push her out; firm denies all allegations

Jan.January 30, 2018 04:05 PM

James Pirot, Jamie Addeo and 1633 Broadway

UPDATED, Jan. 31, 10:00 a.m.: An office-leasing broker with Cresa claims she was constantly subjected to sexual harassment as well as lewd and discriminatory conduct by male principals at the firm. The suit, which has not been reported on previously, further alleges a pervasive culture of hostility toward women at the firm, and mirrors complaints being brought to light in several industries as part of the #MeToo movement.

Jamie Addeo, a vice president in the tenant-focused commercial brokerage’s New York office, filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court in July against Cresa as well as managing principals James Pirot, Matthew Feeney, and Eric Thomas, who left for Cushman & Wakefield in October.

Addeo, who joined Cresa in 2008, claims “the work environment within Cresa is openly hostile toward women and geared toward promoting and advancing only male employees.”

The case is ongoing and in the discovery stage, sources told The Real Deal.

A spokesperson for Cresa said the firm “denies any and all allegations.” Then, on Friday, CEO Jim Underhill said in a statement, “As a company committed to a fair and safe workplace, we take all allegations of gender discrimination and sexual harassment with the utmost seriousness. Since Ms. Addeo first made her accusations known to us, we have conducted an internal investigation of her allegations. Based on our findings, we deny any and all allegations of misconduct. While this matter is in litigation, we will have no further comment.”

Addeo alleges she has been subjected to a “slew of retaliatory and further discriminatory acts” in an effort to force her out of the company. After she lodged a complaint of discrimination in February 2017 against the principals, she alleges she was removed from a key account and other business opportunities.

The lawsuit puts a spotlight on Pirot, an industry veteran of more than 30 years who joined Cresa in 2013, for alleged discriminatory behavior. Addeo, who is bisexual, claims Pirot undermined her ability to advance by subjecting her to discriminatory treatment and failing to pay her on par with male, heterosexual colleagues. Addeo alleges she has repeatedly been denied a promotion to principal despite her several requests to Pirot.

Pirot also allegedly made a number of disparaging comments about lesbians in Addeo’s presence, including repeatedly saying “fucking dykes” and arguing that lesbians are “a waste of good-looking women.”

One time, in Addeo’s presence, Pirot asked a female vice president from the Chicago office if she “sucked dick” in order to bolster her position with the company, Addeo’s lawsuit states.

In 2015, the company conducted an internal investigation after an associate broker became belligerent and aggressive toward Addeo after she asked him why he had failed to attend a client meeting, the suit states. As a result of the investigation, the broker – who was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit – was required to take courses in professional conduct, but he did not, the suit claims.

When Addeo brought this to attention of company executives, Pirot allegedly urged her to let it go. Addeo claims Pirot told her, “Luckily you are a tough dyke or he would have been gone.” Pirot then allegedly admitted the broker would have been terminated if he acted similarly toward a heterosexual female in the office.

Addeo alleges that Pirot once invited her to Mastro’s Steakhouse to interview a potential recruit for a junior broker position. After the interview with the female candidate ended, Addeo told Pirot that she thought the candidate was unqualified, but Pirot allegedly responded by saying Addeo would likely be distracted by the recruit’s presence since she “likes to lick box and all.” Addeo says she complained to a female vice president at the company, which got back to Pirot, who allegedly called her into his office and called her a “fucking idiot.”

Pirot could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jane Roundell, the firm’s only female managing principal in New York, spoke to TRD last month for a story about real estate’s male-dominated culture. “The general culture in commercial real estate is very aggressive,” Roundell said at the time, speaking broadly.

In Addeo’s lawsuit, Pirot is also accused of saying — in front of staff and Roundell’s subordinates — he did not know why “this old bitch” was on the executive team. Roundell could not be reached for this story.

Cresa, a Boston-based brokerage founded in 1993, has struggled to gain momentum in office or retail leasing in New York City. Mark Jaccom ran the New York office from 2012 until 2017, when he left for JRT Realty Group in April and then for Walter & Samuels in September. Cresa has nearly 900 employees and agents worldwide.

The commercial brokerage world, which some consider as more of a meritocracy than development due to its commission-based structure, has a wide gender divide and a dearth of women in leadership positions, an issue TRD examined in its January cover story.

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