The Real Deal New York

NKF broker accused of sexual harassment by fired administrative assistant

She filed lawsuit against brokerage and Merrill Roth
By Kathryn Brenzel | July 13, 2018 08:30AM

Merrill Roth

A former administrative assistant at Newmark Knight Frank says she was fired after complaining to the brokerage’s human resources department that vice chairman Merrill Roth repeatedly made sexually suggestive comments in the office, marking what is at least the second lawsuit filed against the company involving sexual harassment claims in the past year.

Jeannie Holohan named the brokerage and Roth in the lawsuit, alleging that he made sexually suggestive comments and invaded her personal space. The complaint, filed in Manhattan Federal Court, claims she was fired in December 2017 after she reported Roth’s behavior to HR. This lawsuit follows another that was filed against the company last year in Los Angeles. That complaint accused the firm’s former managing director Michael Arnold of sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behavior. When asked about Holohan’s case, representatives for the company called the allegations “baseless.”

“The company takes seriously its obligation to provide each of its employees with a respectful and dignified workplace free of harassment and discrimination,” Sarah Berman, a spokesperson for Newmark, said in a statement. “In this case, we have thoroughly investigated allegations made by a former employee and have determined them to be baseless. The company intends to vigorously defend itself and is confident that this lawsuit will be dismissed.”

On one occasion in August 2017, Holohan claims she was with Roth in his office reviewing and editing a presentation. His hand brushed against her thigh, and she moved away, according to the complaint. He then allegedly responded: “You know I’m not a sexual monster. But my wife thinks I am.” He then inched closer to her, and she made an excuse to leave the room, according to the complaint. Before she was able to leave, Roth allegedly said, “You know I understand women well.”

During her time with the company, Roth allegedly made other sexually suggestive comments, including “You think you’re so smart, don’t you? I wonder what else you are good at?”

On another occasion, Roth allegedly called her into his office, and, after looking her up and down said, “I have no problem with what I see at all.”

After instances where Holohan rejected his advances, Roth found errors in her work, the complaint alleges. According to the lawsuit, between October 16, 2017 and October 19, 2017, Roth repeatedly called out Holohan out for mistakes that he was actually making on a project.

Soon after, Roth provided Holohan with a written warning, citing her “attitude, insubordinate behavior,” according to the complaint. In response to the warning, Holohan told the brokerage’s director of operations that she “did everything she had to do.”

As a result, the director of operations chastised her, allegedly saying, “Merrill is not a vindictive man. When he writes something, he puts a lot of time and energy into it. He is such a good man. If you can’t work with him, what do I need you for? You are not doing your job and displeasing him.”

The day she received the warning, Nov. 21, Holohan contacted Newmark’s HR department and asked for a transfer to a different department. In a meeting with HR a few days later, she described Roth’s sexual harassment. She was fired on Dec. 6 without receiving any word on her allegations, she claims.

Newmark went public in December. Its stock price was listed at $14.28 as of Thursday.