Suzanne Mueller, the face of realtor.com at dozens of industry events over the last four years, has filed suit against the site’s operator, Move Inc., alleging sexual harassment, negligent supervision and retaliation, among other charges.
According to legal filings, Move, a News Corp. subsidiary, employed Mueller from Dec. 14, 2015, to June 5, 2020, as the company’s senior vice president of industry relations. The complaint alleges Move discriminated against Mueller on the basis of sex and age and failed to provide “a safe working environment and failed to adequately supervise employees,” including Move’s former chief revenue officer, Raymond Picard, who was ousted in May as part of recent leadership shake-ups at the company. Mueller is 56 years old and Picard was one of her supervisors.
“Plaintiff was the subject of verbal, sexual innuendo and has suffered as a result of the sexually charged atmosphere,” Mueller’s attorneys wrote in the complaint.
“The environment of harassment and discrimination was hostile and abusive towards women and unreasonably interfered with many female employees’ work performance.”
“Defendant took no effectual action to stop the harassment directed at women despite actual and/or constructive knowledge of such unlawful activity, and, in fact, often condoned such harassment,” the complaint added. “Plaintiff found defendant’s harassing conduct to be wholly unwelcome, and experienced substantial and enduring emotional distress as a direct result of defendant’s conduct.”
The complaint offers a litany of comments allegedly uttered by Picard and Move’s executive vice president of software, who is unnamed, but the complaint said is also male and also supervised Mueller. The filing also mentions sexual harassment allegations against at least one executive of the National Association of Realtors.
The complaint references a 2016 incident in which male industry professionals allegedly uttered violent and sexually graphic remarks toward women on a shuttle bus between gatherings at an Inman conference. After the remarks were publicized, Picard allegedly commented to Mueller that “they were just being boys on a bus shooting the shit. Why do you want to penalize these guys for just a few random comments?”
Also in 2016, Move’s EVP of software allegedly said to Mueller that “all field employees’ cell phone expenses have been capped at the same amount, although I bet the women are going to ask for more because they talk more. Are you going to ask for more?” In 2017, the same executive allegedly asked Mueller, “What on earth does your family do with their mom traveling so much?” and in reviewing her expense reports allegedly said, “Should I have to cover Tylenol on an expense report just because you got cramps or something?”
In 2019, Mueller attended an International Women’s Day event on Move’s behalf as part of a panel of executive women from several industries who met to network and discuss current issues. After the event, Picard allegedly commented, “This women’s event and panel is meaningless and made the entire day a waste of work time.”
Also in 2019, Picard allegedly told Mueller, “I don’t know how you could think to lose weight on the road with your travel schedule and your metabolism is clearly slowing down.” Also last year, Picard allegedly told her that “as a woman, you shouldn’t walk anywhere outside the hotel after dark.”
Moreover, the complaint alleges that in 2019 someone referred to as an unnamed “NAR Executive” in the complaint had been reported to Move “for sexually harassing a female employee over dinner and at meetings” and that in response, the company’s CEO had told Mueller, “But that’s her job, and yours, to deal.” It is unclear whether the complaint is referring to Ryan O’Hara, Move’s CEO until June 2019, or to the interim CEO after O’Hara’s departure, Tracey Fellows.
The complaint offered more details on what appears to be a separate allegation against a NAR executive made in the fall of 2019. The filing alleges that a female Move employee claimed she had been sexually harassed in the workplace by Ken Burlington, a NAR vice president and chief operating officer of the Realtors Information Network. RIN, a NAR subsidiary, oversees the trade group’s realtor.com agreement with Move.
Asked for comment and whether NAR was aware of these sexual harassment complaints against NAR executives, Mantill Williams, NAR’s vice president of communications, told Inman via email, “It is NAR policy not to comment on personnel matters.”
Mueller allegedly reported the harassment and supplied corroborating information to Move’s chief people officer, who was conducting the investigation, and Move’s legal counsel. According to the complaint, Move notified Mueller that she was being laid off on May 4, 2020. The complaint alleges she was wrongfully terminated for reporting and participating in a sexual harassment investigation and for her “support of coworkers’ complaints of sexual harassment.”
The complaint alleges negligent supervision, negligent retention, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, sexual harassment, age discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful discharge. It seeks back pay and compensation for past and future financial and non-financial losses, including emotional pain, suffering, anguish, loss of enjoyment of life and damage to reputation.
Asked for comment and whether Move was aware of the inappropriate comments detailed in the complaint, Move spokesperson Stephanie Singer said via email, “We generally don’t comment on ongoing litigation. The person named in the lawsuit is no longer with Move.”
But in a motion to dismiss filed Thursday, Move asked the court to toss six of the seven allegations and to require Mueller to clarify one of her allegations in an amended complaint.
“Mueller does not plead facts showing that Move had knowledge of managers’ alleged unfitness or that Move failed to exercise reasonable care to discover the alleged unfitness,” the filing says.
“To be sure, she repeatedly alleges that managers made inappropriate comments to her, … but she does not allege why Move should have known about their alleged comments or why Move should have discovered these alleged comments,” the filing continues. “Specifically, she never alleges that she told anyone about these allegedly inappropriate comments, let alone complained about them to anyone at Move. Based on the face of her complaint, she has not pled facts sufficient to show that Move knew or should have known about the allegedly unlawful behavior.”
Mueller did not respond to phone calls and a voicemail seeking comment for this story. Picard, Burlington, O’Hara and Fellows did not respond to requests for comment sent via LinkedIn. Inman also requested comment from Burlington, O’Hara and Fellows through corporate email addresses and received no response.