The phone call that shocked Leigh Marcus’ top team 

@properties team shed staff after recording of top broker surfaced

Inside the Exodus From Leigh Marcus’ Top @properties Team
@Properties broker Leigh Marcus (Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal)

In March 2023, Leigh Marcus, one of Chicago’s top residential brokers, was on a call with his second-in-command, Grahm Bailey.

The two men at the top Chicago team of the @Properties Christie’s International Real Estate brokerage were discussing who on the team was “dead weight,” and given the slowed residential market, whom they should lay off and why.

Marcus, a hard-charging broker whose team notched over $196 million in 2021 deals to score fourth among The Real Deal’s ranking of residential agents, suggested terminating a staffer who had previously had a child and taken unpaid maternity leave.

“We better do it before she gets pregnant again, because then we can’t fire her,” Marcus is heard saying on a recording of the call, a copy of which was obtained by The Real Deal.

The beeps in this selection from the 28-minute call between Marcus and Bailey are the names of three employees, censored to protect their privacy. 

A recording of the call, automatically captured by customer relationship management software used by the team, was found by a staffer and passed around the office before it made the rounds around the Chicago residential brokerage scene.

The spread of the recording came ahead of a major shift inside the top team at one of Chicago’s most successful residential brokerages, according to interviews with former employees granted anonymity by TRD in this story given their concerns of retaliation.

“This wholesome image that has been fed to employees, to the community, to social media is not real,” one former employee said of the team, which Leigh co-founded with his wife, Lindsay Marcus.

“Leigh’s comment was wrong and offensive, and we explicitly condemn it,” @properties said in a statement. “It does not reflect the views, policies or practices of @properties in any way.” 

In a statement to TRD, Marcus confirmed he “made a regrettable comment regarding the risks associated with terminating a pregnant employee” during “a private call that was recorded without my knowledge or consent.” 

“My comment was neither thoughtful, nor in alignment with my personal beliefs,” Marcus said.

In the months since the recording surfaced, 16 people resigned from the team, including staff, executives and high-volume agents. 

Some of those who opted to depart left for @properties’ biggest competitor in the market, New York-based Compass. Others moved to different teams at @properties. Another five staffers were laid off or fired in the following months. 

Staff and agents were notified five staffers would be laid off in a March 28 meeting, after Marcus and Bailey’s call, when the team lead told employees the growth they projected for this year that hadn’t materialized, and they were forced to make cuts.

Overall, the Leigh Marcus team has lost at least 25 agents and support staff through layoffs, terminations and resignations in recent months, according to former employees. 

The team currently has twelve agents and six staff members after five staffers were laid off and five resigned, according to an attorney for Marcus. 

The attorney disputed the headcount detailed by former team members. Marcus and his attorney did not immediately respond when asked to clarify the total number of agent and staff departures, nor did they respond to a request to identify the six current staff members. 

Many who departed in recent months cited concerns about the recording and how it could affect them professionally, according to interviews with several former employees.

Some also pointed to their concern over the financial future of the team in the wake of sudden layoffs, as Marcus and Bailey can be heard saying on the recording the team was on pace to lose $1 million for the year. 

The initial layoffs included the team’s CFO, sales manager and other top executives — leaving less leadership to execute or manage non-transactional tasks. 

Marcus, through a statement provided by an attorney, cited the downturn of the residential real estate market for the layoffs, and said the team responded similarly to brokerages across the country with steps including “layoffs and the implementation of technological solutions to lower the team’s overhead and costs.”

The recording

The woman mentioned in the recording was a staffer who had previously taken unpaid time off in early 2020 after the birth of her first child.

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That woman was then laid off while on maternity leave during the initial months of the pandemic, with an offer from Marcus to potentially return part-time if a position was available, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. After rejoining the team, she was then put on a performance improvement plan. She was not laid off during the March 28 meeting, but left the team after the recording surfaced. 

The woman agreed to a settlement with Marcus upon her departure, according to a person with knowledge of the deal. She declined to comment when reached by a reporter.

Maternity leave is not a requirement of any employers within the United States, and because many real estate agents are independent contractors, they are typically not eligible to take paid maternity leave at brokerages that do offer it to on-staff positions, unless the brokerage or team specifically offers that perk to agents.

Businesses in Illinois are subject to both federal and state law regarding pregnancy discrimination, and in Illinois, pregnant people are a defined and protected class in the Illinois Human Rights Act, according to Laura Schrick, an attorney with Mathis, Marifian & Richter who focuses on labor and employment law.

Potential examples of pregnancy-related discrimination outlined in Illinois Department of Human Rights policy include “failing to promote a non-pregnant employee capable of becoming pregnant because of the assumption that they will or may become pregnant and might be less committed to their work.” 

In an email to TRD ahead of the publication of this story, attorneys for Leigh Marcus said the team offers staff eight weeks of maternity leave paid at 100 percent of the employee’s salary, which the team touted on social media last year.  

“The decision by the Leigh Marcus Team to offer benefits that far exceed industry norms, was premised on Leigh and his team’s commitment to supporting women and working mothers,” the letter said. 

@properties said in a statement it had “reviewed this matter with Leigh and other members of his team, and have been assured that, not only does his comment contradict @properties’ values, but also Leigh’s own personal views, policies and practices.”  

After an “in-depth review,” the brokerage said it concluded, “despite his comment, Leigh has never taken any action that is discriminatory or disregards equal employment” and the broker “is fully aware that there will be no tolerance for words or behaviors that do not protect and respect the rights of @properties agents and staff.”

“After the call,” Marcus said in a statement, “I talked to my leadership team, which includes my wife, the working mother of our daughters, to align on a strategy to protect the team’s financial stability without compromising our values.”

“We ultimately followed our moral compass and took no adverse actions against the employee discussed in the recording,” Marcus said. “I hope that my team’s actions — as well as our long-standing commitment to supporting the working parents on our team — speak louder than my poorly chosen words.”

In meetings to confront concerns over the recording, members of leadership told employees the team had settled a situation with a woman who had previously been on the Leigh Marcus team and was fired in 2017, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.

In the months after the woman told Marcus and his wife she was pregnant, she was subjected to additional oversight and write-ups for the first time in her tenure on the team. 

The agent, who had been previously trusted to handle the Marcus’ personal real estate transactions when the couple bought an investment property, had been given access to Leigh Marcus’ email, where she found correspondence between Marcus’ wife and an attorney detailing how to terminate her without running afoul of pregnancy discrimination laws, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

She also agreed to a settlement deal with Marcus, according to sources with knowledge of the deal, and declined to comment when reached by a reporter. 

A statement provided by @properties said the brokerage was not aware of any previous settlement. 

What’s to come for a typically top team

The team’s drop in numbers put it in good company with other residential players struggling with a slowing market, but marked a sharp change from the lofty goals staffers said Marcus previously expressed for the future.

The leader had been growing his team in an attempt to replicate his prior success with fewer hours in the office. Prior to the layoffs, Marcus had wanted to aggressively grow the team to make it one of the largest in the country, and leased more office space to add buyer-side staff.

He told staffers he eventually wanted to go on tour, touting his business success and offering to teach others how to recreate it. 

The departures since the spring tempered those aspirations and altered the family-friendly perception that Marcus had crafted even among his team. 

One team member said they initially didn’t believe what was on the call, until, in subsequent conversations, it became clear that Marcus and Bailey were sticking to the script they had rehearsed on the phone.

“Guys I’m here,” Bailey said, coaching Marcus on the call about how he would take questions from employees on the layoffs. “This is a family business that we are running like a business … and I’ve got your back. This is for you.”

If you have experienced sexual, gender-based, racial or other forms of employment discrimination at a real estate company in Chicago, The Real Deal wants to hear from you. Submit tips to or contact reporter Miranda Davis at