Zillow Group has cleared several legal ensnarements with its employees in Irvine, California, just before heading into the first day of trial with archrival Move Inc. today. During a court-ordered conference on May 5, Zillow settled four lawsuits that accused the Seattle-based company of harassment and discrimination.

  • During a court-ordered conference on May 5, Zillow settled four lawsuits with its Irvine, California-based employees.
  • The complaints involved racial and age discrimination, sexual harassment and unreasonable expectations for employees.
  • In a separate class-action complaint, Zillow also reached a settlement in principle for a suit that alleged at least 120 of the firm's hourly sales consultants were owed $5 million in overtime.
  • Despite having a track record that's far from blemish-free, Zillow has implemented a number of employee-focused initiatives that resulted in its recognition as an attractive workplace.

Zillow Group has cleared several legal ensnarements with its employees in Irvine, California, just before heading into the official first day of trial with archrival Move Inc. today.

During a court-ordered conference on May 5, Zillow settled four lawsuits that accused the Seattle-based company of harassment and discrimination, as reported by the Orange County Register.

Nature of the lawsuits

One lawsuit was brought by Irvine-office employee Rachel Kremer, who felt the company created a workplace atmosphere akin to that of an “adult frat house” with a “pervasive culture of degrading women.”

Specifically, the suit pointed to sexually explicit texts sent by Kremer’s fellow colleagues. In court documents, Zillow said while the messages were inappropriate, the sexual harassment complaint was “frivolous.”

The basis for complaint in the other lawsuits involved racial and age discrimination, as well as unreasonable expectations for employees. One plaintiff claimed she was fired for not coming into work despite being in the hospital.

Overtime lawsuit ‘settled in principle’

In a separate class-action complaint, Zillow also reached a settlement in principle, which has yet to be ratified by a judge, for a suit that alleged at least 120 of the firm’s hourly sales consultants were owed $5 million in overtime.

This case has been making its way through the court system since November 2014, when former inside sales consultant Ian Freeman first filed suit.

The original complaint claimed that Zillow “engaged in an illegal design to circumvent federal and state laws with the sole purpose of maximizing profits through a systematic scheme of exploiting and intimidating its employees to miss meal breaks, rest breaks and work overtime without compensation.”

Freeman described an automated timekeeping system that clocked employees from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. regardless of extended days or missed lunch hours.

Zillow prevailed twice in getting these claims dismissed, but the court gave plaintiffs more opportunities to amend their complaint. In February 2016, the case was certified as class action, opening the doors for other employees to seek damages.

Settlement terms were not disclosed in any of the cases, and Zillow admits to no wrongdoing in any of the suits.

“We strongly believe it is in the best interest of our people and our business to reach closure, put these allegations to rest and move on,” the company said in a statement to L.A. Biz.

Company efforts to improve culture

Despite having a track record that’s far from blemish-free, Zillow has implemented a number of employee-focused initiatives resulting in its recognition as an attractive workplace.

In December 2014, Glassdoor ranked Zillow as the 33rd best place to work among companies with 1,000 or more employees, as previously reported by Inman. (Rich Barton, co-founder and executive chairman at Zillow, is also a co-founder and nonexecutive chairman of Glassdoor.)

Employees weighed in on the company’s perks, including “work-life balance [that] generally has gotten a lot better since the startup days,” and a “fun atmosphere, lots of free food, great salary, big impact on the site.”

The company also hired its first-ever VP of people and culture, Dan Spaulding, in April of this year to oversee the company’s human resources operations, spearhead its recruiting and further promote a culture of work-life balance. Around the same time, Zillow Group added an extended 16-week maternity leave policy and “Baby Bucks” — $1,000 given to new parents for essential items.

Moreover, Seattle Business Magazine recognized Zillow Group in 2015 as the No. 1 place to work in the city.

Responding to a request for comment, the company said in a statement to Inman News:

“Zillow has settled all the individual lawsuits originating from the Orange County office. By settling these suits, we are in no way admitting to any fault or wrong doing.

“We strongly believe it is in the best interest of our people and our business to reach closure, put these allegations to rest and move on. Zillow takes any allegations about our work environment very seriously. One of our highest priorities is and always will be ensuring we sustain a company-wide culture where people work hard and treat each other with dignity and respect.”

Email Caroline Feeney.

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