The legal battle for former Keller Williams CEO Mark Willis is far from over, according to a Feb. 18 court order that upheld the temporary restraining order keeping Willis from joining eXp Realty in an undisclosed executive role.
The two-page order explained both Keller Williams and eXp Realty motioned to extend the TRO to give them more time to prepare for a discovery, which will require Keller Williams Founder Gary Keller and several other executives to provide sworn, out-of-court oral testimonies regarding their claim that Willis’ potential move to eXp would damage the Texas-based brokerage.
“It is therefore ordered that, upon agreement of [Keller Williams] and [Willis and eXp Realty] and for good cause shown, the Temporary Restraining Order issued in this case on February 7, 2022, is extended effective immediately and shall continue in full force and effect until the earlier of the time of the court’s order on [Keller Williams’] application for a temporary injunction or other further order of this court,” the order read.
The struggle between the two brokerages started in January when Keller Williams sent Willis and eXp a letter threatening legal action, after learning Willis’ plan to join the rival firm. KW said Willis’ ownership stake in a franchise and two regions gave him access to more than 150 confidential data reports that would “cause irreparable damage to KWRI’s intellectual property, confidential information, goodwill, and system” if shared with eXp.
EXp’s attorneys claimed Keller Williams sabotaged Willis’ attempts to sell his remaining interests in the company and argued Keller Williams’ stance is hypocritical since they hired former eXp President of Operations Stacey Onnen on Feb. 4.
“KWRI’s position that Mr. Willis will inevitably disclose its confidential information to [eXp] by virtue of his past employment with KWRI and present passive investments in Keller Williams entities is fundamentally inconsistent with its hiring of Ms. Onnen,” eXp’s Feb. 8 countermotion read. “If Mr. Willis would inevitably disclose KWRI’s confidential information to eXp if hired, it is beyond dispute that Ms. Onnen would inevitably disclose eXp’s confidential information to KWRI.”
It added, “The allegation that it is inevitable that eXp will obtain confidential KWRI information if it hires Willis is legally and factually baseless and eXp seeks to intervene to defend against those allegations.”
Keller Williams and eXp Realty were unavailable for comment regarding the TRO hearing postponement; however, both brokerages have provided prior statements explaining their motives.
Keller Williams spokesperson Darryl Frost told Inman their lawsuit is simply to protect the interests of Willis’ franchise partners and push the former CEO to uphold his contract with the franchisor. “Due to his current ownership interests, Mr. Willis has non-competition obligations in place with Keller Williams in which he agreed not to compete with his partners and Keller Williams while simultaneously profiting off them,” Frost said on Feb. 8. “As a result, the company filed this lawsuit to enforce the agreements and protect the interests of his franchise partners and Keller Williams.”
Meanwhile, eXp World Holdings founder Glenn Sanford said the decision to have eXp stand beside Willis as a co-defendant in the TRO hearing stems from his belief in “agent and leadership mobility in the real estate industry.”
“We are interested in engaging with Mark Willis because of his management experience and demonstrated leadership in the industry,” he also told Inman on Feb. 8. “EXp Realty has intervened in the lawsuit to protect its right to hire qualified real estate professionals and has no interest in any competitor’s confidential information.”
The battle over Willis is the latest chapter in a decades-long rift between Gary Keller and Glenn Sanford that started when Keller reportedly snubbed Sanford, then a top-producing team leader at Keller Williams, by not including him in an elite company group. The rift has become more obvious in current years, as both founders have made snide remarks about each others’ technology, business models and trajectory in the industry.
Although Keller and Sanford cooled off on direct attacks after 2019 — Keller passed on the opportunity to directly lambast eXp during his KW Family Reunion appearance on Sunday — both factions have been chipping at each other as dozens of Keller Williams’ standout teams move to eXp, and Keller Williams returns the favor by recruiting some of eXp’s leadership to lead their newest ventures.
Read the full motion below: