Agent seeks $3M from Corcoran for defamation

Carol Cohen says she was fired after facing lawsuit from landlord

Carol Cohen, the former Corcoran Group agent who was ousted from the firm after her landlord accused her of scamming a rent-stabilized apartment, is seeking $3 million from the brokerage for allegedly spreading rumors about her personal and professional qualifications.

In a lawsuit filed in New York State Court Dec. 30, Cohen claims that Corcoran representatives falsely stated that she never obtained a real estate license, despite a noteworthy career as an agent, and lied about her income to her landlord. The suit accuses the firm, CEO Pamela Liebman, and Paula Busch, formerly a sales manager at Corcoran, of defamation and slander, among other claims.

Cohen’s landlord, Katz 737 Corp., sued the broker and her husband in December 2010, claiming they had reported a combined income of less than $175,000 on state forms to prevent a rent increase at their $3,060 per month rent-stabilized apartment at 737 Park Avenue, between 71st and 72nd streets.

The landlord claimed the figure was woefully small, given Cohen’s numerous multi-million dollar apartment sales and her longtime partnership with top Corcoran broker Deborah Grubman. But the suit was dismissed in October, and a judge deemed the claims “completely baseless.”

Still, a question lingered about whether Cohen resigned or was fired. Now a senior vice president at Brown Harris Stevens, Cohen provided her side of the story in the complaint.

Cohen claims that a day after her landlord sued, Busch fired her, telling her she would have to leave the office without gathering her personal belongings or her list of business contacts. Busch “yelled at [Cohen] in a verbally abusive manner and criticized her,” the complaint says.

Later, Corcoran officials allegedly told Cohen she would not be able to collect a past commission check unless she signed a form accepting an electronic database of her clients, which she claimed was incomplete. Cohen eventually received a compact disc copy of the database, but it was edited, according to the suit.

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Cohen claims that Corcoran officials then informed “well-known and reputed real estate agencies” that she had been practicing real estate without a license, before telling the New York Post that she had misrepresented herself as a senior vice president and broker, when she was actually a licensed salesperson. Cohen is a licensed salesperson whose license expires in May 2013, according to state records.

Cohen’s son, Mark, was also working as a Corcoran agent at the time, and he claims in the suit that after she left, he was harassed to the point he was forced to quit the firm. He has since joined his mother at BHS.

Barry Viuker, a partner with Morris Duffy Alonso & Faley who represents Cohen, said the suit may be withdrawn but declined to comment further.

In New York State, defamation claims have a one-year statute of limitations, meaning injured parties must file a complaint within a year of the incident at issue. Cohen’s suit may act as a kind of placeholder to allow the broker to pursue her claims down the road, according to Sandra Baron, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, a New York-based legal non-profit.

“You can’t wait forever, but [Cohen’s attorney] certainly could file it now and engage in discussions, for example, with the defendant to see whether the case could be disposed of without the parties having to go through full-scale litigation,” said Baron, who is not involved with the case.

A representative for Corcoran did not immediately return requests for comment. Busch, who left Corcoran for Town Residential in the spring, said she could not discuss Cohen’s claims because of a separation agreement she had with her former employer, but said she was “very surprised” about the suit.

Cohen did not immediately return a request for comment, but previously said she was “deeply disappointed by how the matter was handled by Corcoran.” Mark declined to comment.