The Chicago Association of Realtors has sued one of its own members, claiming comments she made on the Internet about the association and its finances defamed CAR and its CEO, Ginger Downs.
CAR’s lawsuit against Andrea Geller, a broker at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Chicago and a member of the trade group’s finance committee, claims more than $50,000 in damages, the Chicago Tribune reported. It’s believed to be the first time on record that the 129-year-old trade association has sued a member for defamation, the Tribune said.
The suit comes on the heels of a dispute within the association over the removal of former President Bob Floss. Floss was relieved of the position in July, two months before his one-year term was scheduled to expire. Floss was replaced with President-elect Zeke Morris.
On Aug. 20, Floss told Chicago Agent magazine that he had been "impeached" because he "asked to see all the finances" regarding the trade group’s expenses, operating costs (including executive salaries) and owned entities. CAR disputed the allegations and said the change in leadership had nothing to do with Floss’s inquiry into the financial operations of the association.
CAR has said Floss was removed for violating prohibitions against harassment, but has declined to elaborate further on the decision, citing confidentially regarding "sensitive personnel matters."
On Aug. 23, CAR posted financial information for the trade group for the past five years in a members-only section of their website, including "audited financials with notes, 990 statements and tax returns," CAR said. The trade group has about 11,000 members.
Geller was one of dozens of commenters, which also included other CAR members, on the Chicago Agent story. Among her comments, she repeatedly called for a forensic audit of the financial information posted on CAR’s site. Geller declined to comment for this story, but defended her posts, including some on Facebook, in the Tribune Wednesday.
"Everything I said I believe is factual," Geller told the Tribune. "If they would address things within the (finance) committee, within the board, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I think (the suit) is frivolous. I believe everything I said was true or not defamatory."
CAR’s Morris said in a statement that Geller "left us with no choice."
"The ongoing false statements about fictitious financial issues are intolerable and inexcusable, particularly in light of the fact that the association urged Ms. Geller over the course of several weeks to identify specific concerns so they could be investigated," Morris said.
"Rather than act responsibly, she continued with the defamatory posts, through and including this past weekend. We were forced to take action to protect the association’s well-earned respect and reputation."
CAR said the association’s finances are audited annually by independent certified public accountants.
"We have been, and will continue to be, good and responsible stewards of our members’ dues," Morris said.