Real estate's reinvention acts

Though many of the real estate players who’ve been publicly accused of sexual misconduct are no longer at their firms, they have landed elsewhere in the industry
By Kathryn Brenzel and Erin Hudson | May 01, 2019 01:00PM

Jared Seligman

While the #MeToo movement has taken down a slew of high-profile men — from the CEO of CBS, Les Moonves, to U.S. Sen. Al Franken — being accused of sexual harassment hasn’t been a professional death sentence for many in the real estate industry.

Over the past few years, there have  been many cases where someone in New York City real estate has resigned or been fired over alleged misconduct, only to start their own firm or be quickly hired by a competitor.

Former Eastern Consolidated broker Robert Khodadadian, for example, was accused of sending an intern a lewd video in 2013. Although he was terminated by the now-shuttered firm, he immediately returned to his own company, Skyline Properties — which he launched before going to Eastern but had put on hold. (He said his firm has closed $800 million in deals over the last six years.)

Related: Has #MeToo changed real estate?

Khodadadian, who denies that he sent the video, said he recovered and rebuilt after the incident. The situation, he said, made him realize how important relationships are and allowed him to build connections in the industry. He meets everyone in person, and if someone asks him about the video — which he said is rare — he acknowledges the situation, then moves on. The focus is ultimately business.

“Beside the fact that it wasn’t true, luckily I was able to turn a negative into a positive, and it’s only been growth ever since,” he told TRD.

James Stuckey, who in the early 2000s led Forest City Ratner’s development of Atlantic Yards (now Pacific Park), faced sexual harassment allegations at the company and later at New York University, where he was a professor.

Stuckey resigned from the firm in 2007, citing “personal reasons.” But when a colleague at NYU filed a lawsuit against him five years later, alleging that he “forcibly placed her hand on his crotch and his erect penis” during a dinner that was arranged to discuss a possible promotion, the complaint noted that he’d been accused of misconduct at Forest City.

MaryAnne Gilmartin, who took over for Stuckey at the company, said she was not involved in his departure but supported Bruce Ratner’s handling of personnel matters. 

“I was in charge of picking up the pieces after Jim left,” Gilmartin said. “I took over all the people that he led, and I think I did a decent job of keeping the company moving forward in a positive and healthy way.”   

Stuckey now runs a development firm in Staten Island, Verdant Properties, though his LinkedIn page indicates that he is based in Florida. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Managing internet personas in the era of #MeToo has become a steady business for some like Rajiv Jadhav. He runs an online reputation management firm, RSquare, that uses a mix of machine learning, automation and manual labor to digitally scrub (or elevate) his clients in Google search results.

“All we do is basically just prevent a certain story from appearing on Google,” he explained. “That story will still exist on the Washington Post website, but after we do what we do, it won’t be seen on [Google’s] page one.” He says 96 percent of people don’t look at results past the first page.

In the aftermath of #MeToo, he’s been hired mostly by people in financial services, politics and film and TV to scrub the first page of Google’s results. “I don’t think we’ve worked with anyone in real estate yet,” he said.

Jadhav said most of his clients are “at some end of that [#MeToo] situation,” but so far he’s only scrubbed results for people who were acquitted in court. He said many of his clients call because they “are victims of fake news” and “just want to get on with their lives.”

James Stuckey

In the residential real estate world, Jared Seligman, once a top broker at Douglas Elliman with a roster of celebrity clients, was hired at Stribling & Associates after being sued by his former assistant, Amy Gagnon, over sexual misconduct.

In the lawsuit, filed in May 2017, Gagnon accused her former boss of groping his doctor in front of her and forcing her to buy him drugs and listen to his sexual encounters. She claimed she was fired when she voiced complaints. The case was settled for $136,000. Seligman said he “has vehemently denied” and “discredited” the accusations “in the proper forum,” and declined to comment further.

Elizabeth Ann Stribling-Kivlan, president of Stribling — which last month announced a deal to be acquired by Compass —  said she respects Seligman and stands by the decision to hire him.

“I believe that everyone is due their fair shot at an opportunity,” said Stribling-Kivlan, speaking generally. “There are two sides to every story… and I think it’s important to suss that out.”

Still, Stribling-Kivlan said that maintaining a safe workplace is crucial and noted the importance of an “education process” in maintaining it.

At Stribling, she said, anyone in a supervisory role (agents included) takes part in sensitivity training, which includes scenarios about sexual harassment, about every 18 months. Compass, meanwhile, said it seeks input from agents and employees on how to implement an inclusive, safe and diverse workplace.

When Stribling-Kivlan was asked about her views on how someone can work again after accusations, she said, “I don’t know the answer, and that’s the problem.”

“New York is the kind of city where you have the right to reinvent yourself, and you can work to be a better person,” she said, though she noted that “it doesn’t mean you won’t fall again.”