Following weeks of silence, Seattle-based Windermere Real Estate has drawn a line in the sand between it and Missoula, Montana-based pastor and Realtor Brandon Huber, who faces a $5,000 fine and expulsion from the Missoula Organization of Realtors for halting his church’s donations to Missoula Food Bank for their support of LGBTQ Pride Month and allegedly calling the LGBTQ community “an abomination.”
“What we would like to make clear is that Windermere believes it is important that the public, and all those who choose to affiliate with our name, understand our values as a company,” Windermere CEO Geoff Wood said in an emailed statement to Inman while clarifying his team became aware of the lawsuit mid-November. “This includes being an inclusive organization that has zero-tolerance for discrimination in any form.”
“Not only do we support the LGBTQ+ community but count many of its members as some of our most valued agents, franchise owners, management and staff,” Wood added. “We fully embrace the LGBTQ+ community as part of our own, and as a company, we celebrate the progress that has been made in recent years to secure the rights and the recognition of that community.”
Wood said Windermere has made donations to the Missoula Food Bank and the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance, the latter of which has been lobbying for MOR and Windermere to remove Huber from its ranks. “We fully believe in putting our money where our mouth is, and everyone can expect that Windermere’s actions will align with this long-held value,” the statement read.
Despite their longstanding support of the LGBTQ community, Wood said the brokerage decided to remain silent regarding Huber’s fate with Windermere Missoula, as the company’s structure places franchisees in the driver’s seat when it comes to severing ties with agents or staff.
“It is important to note that Mr. Huber is not an agent or employee of Windermere Services Company,” Wood said. “He is affiliated with a separate franchisee entity, and Windermere Services, as a franchisor, has no authority to control his relationship with that franchisee.”
In June, Huber pulled his church’s support of the Missoula Food Bank due to the organization’s decision to include an LGBTQ+ Pride Month insert with the free lunches it distributed to local families. The insert, Huber claimed, went against his beliefs as a Christian and the biblical principles he teaches his congregants.
But after an anonymous Clinton, Montana, resident filed a discrimination claim with the Missoula Organization of Realtors, claiming the pastor called the LGBTQ community an “abomination” and citing the National Association of Realtors’ Code of Ethics on hate speech, Huber retaliated by filing a lawsuit with the Missoula District Court that claimed NAR’s policy was too vague to be enforced.
The case effectively stands as the first big test for NAR’s hate speech provision, which was officially enacted in November 2020 and applies to all of a Realtor’s activities, not just those that relate to real estate.
“The National Association of Realtors recently enacted a hate speech provision that applies to all Realtors, and it applies 24/7, not just when they’re doing the job,” Huber’s attorney, Matthew Monforton told local radio station KBUL ahead of a rally for Huber on Nov. 17 dubbed the “Let’s Go Brandon Rally.” “The ‘hate speech’ was a letter that Pastor Brandon distributed to his congregation explaining his actions.”
He continued, “[Brandon] basically said, ‘Look, we’ve been partners with the Missoula Food Bank. They want to distribute this, this LGBTQ pride flyer. It goes against our biblical doctrine, and so we’re going to do free lunches on our own.’ That’s it. It was the most polite, innocuous letter that you could possibly imagine.”
“Is the Bible hate speech?” Monforton added. “Because that’s what the Missoula Realtors are alleging.”
The franchisee, Windermere Missoula, told Inman on Thursday they are waiting on the results of the lawsuit against MOR to make a decision about Huber’s future with the brokerage. The lawsuit, which was filed on Nov. 3, claims the National Association of Realtors’ hate speech policy is too vague to be enforced, and the First Amendment gave Huber the right to stop supporting the Missoula Food Bank based on his religious beliefs, despite NAR ruling in May members cannot use religion to excuse disparaging or discriminatory behavior.
“In fairness to all parties concerned, we have been advised to take no actions or make any statements regarding the case until a decision has been rendered,” Windermere Missoula Managing Broker John Bauer told Inman.
Although Windermere executives insist their hands are tied in this instance, Wood said the brokerage is researching what “rights and options” they can exercise in future situations. A Windermere spokesperson was unable to immediately outline those options, at the direction of their legal team. However, Inman will update the story when and if the brokerage’s legal team sends a statement.
“We understand that not everyone will welcome our values or the actions we are taking as a company,” Wood concluded. “We further recognize that given Mr. Huber’s current lawsuit and expressed position, he may very well feel compelled to disassociate himself from the Windermere brand. We would, of course, respect his decision to do so.”
“We believe values define companies as much as they do individuals, and we understand the importance of being clear to our communities, our clients, and those who are affiliated with Windermere about who we are as a company and what values we are promoting under our brand,” he added. “Windermere is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to those in the LGBTQ+ community who may have any concerns about our brand, know that the Windermere family welcomes and values you.”
LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance CEO Ryan Weyandt told Inman he’s “thrilled” with Windermere’s donation, which will be used to fund a scholarship for aspiring LGBTQ real estate professionals who need help with training and start-up costs.
“Combating discrimination takes commitment from organizations like ours and Windermere together,” he told Inman in a written statement. “The donation was unexpected and greatly appreciated.”
Echoing his Inman op-ed published early Monday, Weyandt said he’s still focused on getting Huber removed from Windermere Missoula, although leadership there said they’re waiting on the resolution of Huber’s lawsuit and pending MOR ethics hearing to make a decision.
“We also will ask [Windermere corporate] to connect us with the management team at their affiliate in Missoula so that they understand the impact Huber’s actions have had and continue to have on the LBGTQ+ community, and why we are so disappointed that they are continuing to associate themselves with him,” he added.
However, Monforton, said he doesn’t anticipate Windermere Missoula will cut ties with Huber, despite pressure from “Windermere’s woke corporate office in Seattle.”
“Pastor Huber is grateful to Missoula’s Windermere office for rejecting the Seattle corporate office’s coercion,” Monforton said in an emailed statement to Inman. “Pastor Huber will continue serving all buyers and sellers in Clinton, Missoula, and surrounding real estate markets with the same level of professionalism, honesty, and integrity he has exhibited throughout his career.”
A hearing date for Huber’s lawsuit has yet to be determined.