The Real Deal New York

Title exec alleges “boys club” at TitleVest, First American sidelined women

Complaint said president Brian Tormey favored attractive women dubbed "Brian's Angels"
By E.B. Solomont | February 06, 2018 06:37PM

From left: John Paku, Jacqueline Gold and Brian Tormey (Credit: LinkedIn)

A TitleVest senior executive who alleges she was fired after reporting a pervasive bro culture at the title firm, is suing the insurer and its parent, First American Corp., alleging there was an “egregious” strategy in place to remove female executives and replace them with less qualified males.

In a Feb. 2 lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, Jacqueline Gold, 53, a former senior vice president of operations at TitleVest, said she was ostracized, stripped of responsibilities and later terminated after complaining to HR about widespread misconduct by her superiors, including TitleVest president Brian Tormey. According to Gold’s suit, Tormey perpetuated a “boys club” culture and favored young and “conventionally-attractive” women dubbed “Brian’s Angels.”

The explosive lawsuit is just the latest declaration in which women in the real estate industry say they’ve been systematically marginalized and discriminated against in favor of male colleagues. The suit also shines a harsh light on the title industry — which has a reputation for hard partying and over-the-top entertainment. New regulations by New York’s Department of Financial Services, which took effect Feb. 1 after a delay, ban title companies from offering clients meals, outings, parties and entertainment in an attempt to curb inducements.

Gold is seeking at least $5 million in punitive damages, according to the complaint, which names both TitleVest and First American, which acquired the New York firm in 2015. In the suit, Gold alleged her treatment fits a pattern of misconduct at First American, which had a history of buying smaller title firms and pushing out its female executives.

In a statement, a spokesman for First American said the company does not comment on active litigation.

The complaint alleges that Gold’s mistreatment began after she was offered a job at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2016. Gold gave First American and TitleVest the opportunity to match the offer — which they did despite plans to “jettison” her from the company as soon as First American’s acquisition of TitleVest was complete, the suit said.

Within weeks of turning down the Fed offer, Gold said Tormey began harassing her “in a campaign designed to coerce her into resigning,” and when that didn’t work, her responsibilities were given to a “less qualified male,” the suit alleged.

After John Paku was promoted to State Manager for New York, Gold asked Tormey why she hadn’t been able to apply for the position. His response, according to the suit, was that Paku was “close” with First American’s all-male senior management.

“Brian’s Angels”

Separately, Gold said several subordinates complained to her about a “dirty little secret” in the office: “That Tormey rewarded with preferential treatment young, conventionally-attractive female employees,” which included coveted promotions and excessive raises, according to court documents.

Tormey’s inappropriate behavior also occurred outside the office, according to the suit. In June 2017, for example, one of “Brian’s Angels” allegedly told Gold she had been out drinking with Tormey until 4 a.m. the night before. After drinking “way too much,” the suit said, “Tormey was thrown out of the Meridian Hotel after he went into the hotel’s kitchen area and began cooking hamburgers.”

Although Gold took her claims to human resources, she claims the company never took action. “Defendants knowingly tolerated such clearly inappropriate conduct because Tormey was the largest business generator at the company, and Defendants desperately needed to keep him happy, no matter the cost,” the suit alleged.

Ultimately, First American retaliated against Gold by terminating her without cause in August 2017, she said. Gold claimed she was replaced by a member of the so-called “boys club” who was based out of Chicago and didn’t have experience in the New York market.

The suit alleged the “boys club” culture was accepted at First American, too, which acquired TitleVest for an unknown amount in 2015. Gold claimed she was warned by co-workers and others that women at First American “were routinely sidelined and offered fewer opportunities than men.” Gold said she was informed that any women who held senior positions at First American “were either terminated or pushed out through a culture of harassment and intolerance.” Her lawsuit said women constitute only 20 percent of First American’s executives, and she was the only female executive in First American’s TitleVest division.

Last week, The Real Deal reported that an office-leasing broker at Cresa sued the firm, claiming she was subjected to sexual harassment as well as lewd and discriminatory conduct by the firm’s male principals. In the suit, filed in July, Jamie Addeo claimed “the work environment within Cresa is openly hostile toward women and geared toward promoting and advancing only male employees.”

In its January issue, The Real Deal examined gender issues and bro culture in the real estate industry.