Judge denies Bespoke’s bid to dismiss discrimination lawsuit

Former agents also accuse brokerage of withholding over $1M in commissions

Judge Denies Bespoke’s Motion to Dismiss Discrimination Suit

From left: Harlan Goldberg, Corcoran Group’s Jarret Willis (Getty, Bespoke, Corcoran Group, The Real Deal)

Bespoke isn’t shaking claims of discrimination and retaliation from two former agents just yet. 

A judge denied the Hamptons-based brokerage’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by former agents and executives Harlan Goldberg and Jarret Willis, according to documents filed with the federal district court in Southern New York on Monday. 

In the complaint, the two accuse Bespoke executives, including founders Cody and Zachary Vichinsky, of engaging in overtly racist behavior toward Willis, who is Black, and for making anti-semitic comments toward Goldberg, who is Jewish.

Goldberg, the former president of Bespoke Florida, also accused executives of firing him for reporting the alleged discrimination against Willis. 

Both plaintiffs claim the firm withheld commissions, including $545,000 owed to Willis from the sale of three properties on Long Island’s East End and about $1 million owed to Goldberg from deals at PMG’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel & Residences in Miami. 

Goldberg and Willis filed separate lawsuits with the New York Supreme Court last spring, which were combined and moved to federal court in June. The lawsuit seeks a combined $90 million in damages for the civil rights claims plus additional compensation for the alleged lost commissions. 

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Adam Leitman Bailey, said while the case is still in its early stages, the ruling indicates the judge does consider the claims valid enough to proceed. 

“The only question is going to be the amount of money [Bespoke is] going to pay us and the changes they’re going to make to their business to stop the discrimination against Jewish people and Black people,” Bailey said. 

Though the judge rejected Bespoke’s request, the order acknowledged the brokerage’s attorneys filed “significant additional evidence” including “affidavits, additional agreements and communications between the parties, and evidence of past payments to Plaintiffs” which federal law bars from the judge’s consideration of the motion. 

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Bespoke’s attorneys have 21 days to file a response to the complaint, according to the judge’s order. 

Bespoke’s attorneys accused the plaintiffs of filing the lawsuit “to leverage fictitious discrimination and/or retaliation claims in order to recover unearned commissions and payments,” according to the memorandum filed in support of the dismissal motion.

In the document, the firm’s attorneys argued Goldberg was fired not because he complained about discriminatory behavior but because he stopped performing his required duties after the brokerage denied his request for a higher commission split. 

Bespoke’s attorneys also pushed back against Willis’ claims of discrimination, calling them a “shakedown against a former employer who treated him like family” and instead accused Willis of “engaging in offensive language and behavior while expressing immense gratitude for his position with Bespoke.”

Willis filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights last February, accusing Bespoke employees of calling him the N-word and of referring to him as Jafar, the villain from “Aladdin.”

The agency found probable cause to continue its investigation and called for a hearing to settle “material issues of fact,” according to documents obtained and reported by The Real Deal in November. 

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Though Bailey praised the results of the investigation, the documents don’t signal conclusive support for Willis’ allegations and instead raises questions about the accuracy of some of his claims.

“The allegations comprise situations and interactions that, while now held to be discriminatory, may not have originally been viewed in that manner,” the report states. 

Goldberg and Willis are now with the Corcoran Group.