The CEO of multiple Keller Williams offices has filed a lawsuit against the franchisor, co-founder Gary Keller, and former CEO John Davis, accusing the latter of sexual misconduct and abuse.
In a March 29 amended complaint, Inga Dow, CEO of Keller Williams Realty Fort Worth and Keller Williams Realty Johnson County in Texas, alleges she endured years of sexual misconduct, harassment and abuse at Davis’s hands and that the franchisor, Austin-based Keller Williams Realty Inc. (KWRI), did nothing to address the alleged behavior and continues to retaliate against her for reporting it.
“Until only recently, Plaintiff observed a company culture within KWRI (and its Regions) that encouraged employees, especially women, to do whatever it took to make sales and ‘get along’ with top performers to keep them happy,” the 57-page complaint says.
“From Plaintiff’s experience, ‘getting along’ included having to perform sexual favors or acts for male counterparts and/or top clients.”
In an emailed statement, Keller Williams spokesperson Darryl Frost told Inman, “Keller Williams and its independently-owned franchisees are committed to providing a work environment that is free from discrimination and take such allegations very seriously. In keeping with this commitment, Keller Williams and its franchisees prohibit harassment in all forms.”
Keller declined to comment for this story, citing pending litigation. In a statement, Davis told Inman the lawsuit’s claims are meritless. The amended complaint was filed after the parties went through mediation and failed to come to a settlement.
It was only in late 2020 that KWRI launched a formal mandatory sexual harassment course for KW franchises, known as market centers, according to the complaint. Dow joined KWRI as an associate in 1992 and said this was the first time she’d seen any interest in sexual harassment training from KWRI or KW’s Dallas-Forth Worth regional office, which oversees market centers in the region.
That mentality emboldened KWRI employees and agents “to require, encourage, and/or turn a blind eye to ongoing sexual harassment and a hostile work environment,” the complaint said.
“For example, it was not uncommon for management to ask Plaintiff ‘why don’t you just sleep with ____ to recruit them,’ ‘why don’t you want to get in the hot tub with ____,’ or ‘why don’t you go out with ____ (who was married)? It’s harmless.'”
According to the complaint, in 1996 Dow became a team leader at a KW franchise owned by Keller and met Davis that same year when Davis was hired as a mortgage loan officer for Keller Mortgage. Davis is also the nephew of Mary Tennant, who was allegedly Dow’s “best friend” at the time and sat on the franchisor’s board of directors for several years before resigning in December 2019. Tennant declined to comment for this story.
The complaint alleges that in April 1998, Davis and Dow attended a party hosted by Tennant and that Davis asked Dow if he could come to her home after the party “to talk.”
“On this evening, while at her home, upon exiting the bathroom, Plaintiff entered her living room to find Davis masturbating,” the complaint alleges. “Despite her astonishment, Plaintiff asked Davis to leave and walked him to the door. However, before he left, Davis, who is a much larger person than Plaintiff, grabbed Plaintiff and proceeded to engage in sexual misconduct that violated her body.”
From then on, Dow’s attorneys allege, nearly every time Davis called Dow, he made sexual demands.
“Plaintiff also recalls events where she did not capitulate and/or submit to Davis’s sexual demands, and for example, in or around the end of May 1998, Plaintiff recalls an incident of sexual misconduct where she cried out in pain and asked Davis to stop, but instead, Davis proceeded to have anal sexual intercourse with Plaintiff, despite her objection,” the complaint says.
The complaint alleges that Dow felt “she had no choice but to acquiesce, because Davis was backed and supported by Keller, CEO and Founder of KWRI, which gave Davis a high degree of power within KWRI.”
In an emailed statement, John Davis and his legal team told Inman, “All claims in this lawsuit have absolutely no merit and we look forward to the next steps in the legal process. Mr. Davis and all parties seek dismissal of all claims on the pleadings. If any claims survive, Mr. Davis looks forward to the ability to present this to a full and public hearing of all the facts involved. We eagerly look forward to our day in court and believe the Court will agree these claims have no merit.”
After months of alleged sexual misconduct from Davis, in August 1998, Dow allegedly told Tennant about the behavior. At the time, Tennant was a team leader at a market center owned by Keller and in the chain of command to then-president of KWRI Mark Willis, according to the complaint.
“[I]n response, Tennant told Plaintiff that she ‘was lying,’ ‘it was disgusting,’ and Davis ‘would do no such thing,’ and she then hung up on Plaintiff,” the complaint says.
“Plaintiff was left hopeless because she had reported the sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and hostile work environment, to not only the person who she considered to be her best friend, but also to a member of the KWRI ‘inner circle,’ and in return, she was hung up on and called a liar.”
Dow sent Tennant a letter about the issue the following month, and Tennant never responded, the complaint alleges.
“Based upon this interaction with Tennent [sic], and her observations throughout her time at KWRI, Plaintiff believed any further complaints would fall on deaf ears within KWRI and the Regional Office, and further, based upon society at the time, she felt the same was true with regard to the authorities,” Dow’s attorneys wrote.
In January 1999, David Osborn, whose family owned the KW Dallas-Fort Worth regional office, convinced Dow to move to Dallas to help him open some market centers in the region, according to the complaint. At the time, she did not know that Osborn would later be bringing Davis on board as a team leader, the complaint says.
“Plaintiff’s professional relationships with Osborn made it impossible to avoid Davis, or refuse to talk to and interact with him,” Dow’s attorneys wrote.
Dow, Osborn and Davis eventually became partners in and launched three separate market centers, including the Fort Worth market center. In August 2002, Osborn appointed Davis as the new operating principal for the Fort Worth franchise where Dow was a team leader, making him Dow’s supervisor, according to the complaint.
“In short, in addition to his connections and influence in the ecosystem of KWRI, Davis also now held actual, legal authority to hire, discipline, and/or terminate Plaintiff even though she was also one of the ‘owners’ of the Fort Worth Market Center,” the complaint says.
“Accordingly, this dynamic forced Plaintiff to endure his constant harassment and verbal berating for fear of losing everything she had helped build and having her reputation damaged.”
Davis allegedly continued sexually harassing Dow, including “repeated directives to pleasure him orally or face consequences.” In 2004, Dow’s attorneys say that “she found the courage to say that she would no longer engage in any sexual act with Davis,” allegedly resulting in Davis bad-mouthing her to Osborn, saying she was being “difficult to deal with.” Dow then allegedly told Osborn, who she says was Davis’s boss, about Davis’s behavior.
“Shockingly, instead of expressing any concern or empathy, Osborn informed Plaintiff that she would ‘have to do whatever it takes to get along,’ and as such, he implied to her that he either condoned the sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and hostile work environment, or that he had conceded to the toxic culture of KWRI,” the complaint says.
Afterward, Osborn and Davis allegedly initiated a “business divorce” from Dow in which she says she was forced out of her businesses.
“Plaintiff felt voiceless and powerless to stand up for herself and fight for what she believed she had rightfully earned, because Davis and Osborn held the power to remove Plaintiff from any KWRI affiliation, which would result in a complete loss of income and opportunity,” the complaint says.
Davis allegedly continued to demand sex from Dow and retaliated against her resistance by slow-walking her application to open a market center in Johnson County and by falsely denigrating her performance, causing her to lose agents.
“Plaintiff recalls constant comments from Davis accusing her of being ‘difficult,’ ‘not a team player,’ ‘not a good performer,’ ‘not a good owner/broker,’ and ‘near bankruptcy,’ none of which was true,” the complaint says.
At the same time, when Davis was president of growth for KWRI, he continued to require Dow to participate in weekly calls “and the harassment and demeaning behavior during these meetings continued for years on end,” the complaint added.
In May 2011, Dow disclosed Davis’s alleged sexual abuse and harassment to a KWRI employee who allegedly said “she would relay the message but that she ‘did not think that KWRI would do anything about it because [Davis] was too powerful.'” The complaint alleges KWRI never contacted her about the disclosure.
In 2016, Smokey Garrett, “a close friend of Davis,” became the DFW regional director and allegedly “continued the pattern of constant harassment and retaliation with unwarranted delays of applications, bad-mouthing and disparagement of Plaintiff, and withholding expansion opportunities from Plaintiff.”
Dow’s attorneys allege that the 10-year renewal for the Fort Worth market center was due in 2017, but that Osborn, Garrett, or the company that runs the regional office, Go Management, refused to renew the license, alleging non-compliance, which Dow disputes. To date, Dow operates the franchise on a month-to-month basis.
Also in 2017, Dow, allegedly as a result of “the ongoing, relentlessly hostile work environment,” developed the stress-induced medical condition called Bell’s palsy, which caused her to become disabled. In 2018, she allegedly made several attempts to sell her three market centers, at least one of which she alleges Osborn, Garrett and/or Go Management foiled, and in September 2018, she proposed stepping down as operating principal under a new Legacy program launched by Keller.
“Keller represented that under this program, Plaintiff (and others seeking to retire, suffering from health issues, etc.) would be permitted to remain as an owner of a Market Center but turn over the OP duties to someone else,” the complaint says.
However, “[t]o date, Defendants have denied Plaintiff, and continue to deny Plaintiff, approval to participate in the Legacy Program, as a reasonable accommodation for her disability,” the complaint adds.
In an emailed statement, attorney Boone Almanza, on behalf of Osborn, Garrett and Go Management, told Inman, “Go Management, LLC, David Osborn and Smokey Garrett categorically deny Mrs. Dow’s allegations and are vigorously defending the lawsuit. Not only are the allegations untrue, but they are barred as a matter of law. We look forward to our day in Court.”
In January 2019, Keller Williams announced that Davis would no longer be CEO, and Keller would return to the position.
“It is Plaintiff’s understanding that Davis was asked to step down in lieu of termination for inappropriate sexual behavior, verbal abuse, and bullying,” the complaint says.
“To Plaintiff’s knowledge, it is widespread knowledge by those associated with KWRI that Davis’s inappropriate sexual conduct resulted in numerous confidential settlements with females in the Keller Williams ecosystem.
“Despite Davis’ exit from the position of CEO of KWRI, it is Plaintiff’s understanding that Davis is still associated with, owner/partner, manager, and/or an executive in several KWRI entities.”
In 2020, Dow reported “her issues” to Matt Green, who worked directly with Keller.
“Matt Green reported the issues, and KWRI’s legal department finally reached out to Plaintiff, but to date, nothing more has been done to address the situation, rectify the behavior and/or harassment, or accommodate Plaintiff’s disability,” the complaint says.
Green, who is now KWRI’s head of agent growth and partner experience, declined to comment.
Dow’s lawyers reference KWRI’s removal of Seth Campbell, the owner of multiple successful KW market centers, in July 2020 after a months-long investigation into multiple allegations of sexual harassment. In October 2020, an agent filed a lawsuit against Campbell alleging sexual battery, harassment and retaliation.
“The Campbell situation shows that: (1) the ‘have sex to get ahead’ mentality is endemic throughout the Keller Williams ecosystem; (2) it was allowed, either actually or tacitly, by various levels of local, regional, and corporate staff because ‘everyone knew about it’ but did nothing because he was ‘too powerful’; and (3) it is clear that employees throughout the Keller Williams ecosystem believe that KWRI is the employer, or at least the appropriate place to report this type of behavior for redress,” the complaint says.
The 11-count complaint’s allegations against KWRI and Go Management include hostile work environment; sex discrimination; retaliation for reporting sexual abuse, discrimination, and harassment; and failure to provide reasonable accommodation. Allegations against KWRI, Go Management, Osborn and Garrett include sexual harassment and retaliation. The complaint also alleges breach of contract against KWRI and breach of fiduciary duty against Davis and Osborn.
“As a direct and continuing result of the prior and ongoing sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, hostile work environment, and retaliation, Plaintiff has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Plaintiff has also been forced to seek psychiatric counseling for over fourteen years in an effort to address the trauma that she has suffered and continues to suffer to this day,” the complaint says.
The complaint accuses all defendants — KWRI, Davis, Go Management, Osborn, Garrett and Keller — of tortious interference with an existing contractual relationship and with a prospective relationship for not accepting her into the Legacy program and turning away a prospective operating principal for her market centers.
Dow’s attorneys also seek a court order holding KWRI, Go Management, Keller, Osborn, and Garrett liable as “employers.” According to the complaint, each KW market center, “is subject to extensive oversight and control by KWRI and a KWRI Regional Office … through the terms of the Franchise Agreement and KWRI’s rules and procedures,” which dictate day-to-day operations at market centers, including employee relations, leadership hiring, expansion, sales, and budgeting.
Read the complaint:
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from Keller Williams sent to Inman on Monday, April 2, 2022, after publication.