The letter also expresses support for now-former NAR President Kenny Parcell.
Attorney Denise Drake wrote the letter to NAR CEO Bob Goldberg on July 14. Drake works for Polsinelli Law Firm, which NAR tapped to investigate allegations of misbehavior in 2022 and to vet the claims raised in a lawsuit filed by former NAR employee Janelle Brevard. The lawsuit specifically accused Parcell of racial and sexual harassment.
The purpose of the letter was to offer legal advice on how NAR leaders should behave, as well as how to handle communications in the wake of Brevard’s suit. Drake sent her letter to Goldberg just over two weeks after Brevard filed the lawsuit, and one week after Brevard voluntarily withdrew the case.
Inman obtained the letter last week. It appears to publicly confirm for the first time that Polsinelli, at NAR’s behest, turned up evidence of past misbehavior among multiple leaders, despite NAR leaders making a string of statements downplaying any such problems at the organization.
Asked for comment about the letter, Polsinelli’s chief legal officer demanded Inman not publish its contents. Polsinelli instead asked Inman to either return or destroy the letter. NAR declined to comment, instead referring Inman to Polsinelli’s response.
The letter mentions ‘creepy’ behavior from NAR leaders
The most significant revelation in the letter is that Polsinelli and Drake apparently found evidence of misconduct in 2022.
“As you know,” Drake wrote in the letter, “I found some issues raised last year were true. Those issues ranged from NAR’s highest leaders being disrespectful, or lying about staff or members, to leaders being racially insensitive or engaging in sexual or ‘creepy’ communications or actions. Again, both female and male leaders were identified as having been involved in some of the allegations I found valid.”
The letter does not provide additional details about the “valid” allegations, nor does it name the involved leaders.
Still, the letter appears to be the closest thing to a confirmation from NAR that it turned up internal evidence of misconduct; though Brevard’s complaint had mentioned Polsinelli, NAR itself had not publicly confirmed that an investigation it initiated had produced evidence of workplace misbehavior.
Instead, in a statement to Inman on June 30 about the Brevard case, NAR alluded to Polsinelli — without mentioning the firm by name — but merely to say that the firm’s investigations allowed NAR to “reject the claims” in the suit. The statement made no mention that Polsinelli had uncovered credible evidence of other misbehavior.
Later, on Aug. 10 — nearly a month after Drake sent her letter — NAR’s magazine quoted Goldberg as saying the trade organization “consistently strives to improve our workplace for every employee, and we have a robust set of policies, protocols and training programs in place to help us maintain a positive, respectful working environment.” The magazine piece goes on to describe NAR’s “anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training,” with Goldberg adding that “we pride ourselves on following the best governance practices in place throughout our nation, and we remain focused on fostering a culture that encourages our people to be heard and come forward if needed.”
The magazine piece is titled “NAR prioritizes a respectful workplace,” and it doesn’t mention any behavioral lapses or need for correction. Rather, it opens by saying that harassment and discrimination are reaching “a new level of consciousness in society” — implying that NAR was weighing in because the topic generally was receiving more attention.
Similarly, when the Times asked Goldberg if NAR had a problem with sexual harassment, he responded, “I would not characterize it as a problem.” He added later through a spokesperson that “we operate in a society where, unfortunately, inappropriate conduct can occur. Like any organization, we are not immune to these challenges, and any single allegation concerns me.”
NAR got closer to acknowledging past misbehavior last week. While the organization announced that it was supporting Goldberg and other leaders, it did say in a statement that “we need to rebuild trust.” The statement, from new President Tracy Kasper, also acknowledged that “there are some who have been hurt,” and mentioned the need to build an atmosphere where people feel safe.
However, the statement did not mention any specific allegations, nor did it reference the findings from the NAR-initiated Polsinelli investigations.
But as was the case with Kasper’s previous statement, the video also didn’t include specific mentions of findings from past investigations. Kasper’s video statement also characterized NAR’s recent activity as a response to “recent reports” of misconduct — a characterization that would seem to be at odds with Drake’s discovery of misconduct back in 2022.
The letter resembles NAR’s public condemnations of Brevard’s case
Though the letter references past misbehavior at NAR, it also shows that NAR’s internal communications hewed closely to its public rebuttals of Brevard’s lawsuit.
Most significantly, for example, Drake writes in the letter that “based on my investigation the negative allegations in the lawsuit were not true.” She goes on to note that Brevard’s decision to withdraw the case was “unfortunate” because if it had continued NAR would have been able to file legal documents that “cast a different light on the allegations.” Drake specifically singles out the claim that three other women made complaints about Parcell’s behavior, writing that “both the number of women and the issues were false.”
Drake’s comment appears to refer specifically to the findings of Polsinelli’s investigations, though since the letter went out numerous other women have stepped forward with allegations of misconduct.
The comments from Drake are also noteworthy because they show that the internal communications about the Brevard case essentially match NAR’s public stance on the suit, which is that it lacked merit. For instance, after Brevard filed the case, NAR told Inman on June 28 that it fully investigates misconduct allegations and that “we reject the claims filed in this lawsuit and we will vigorously defend against them.” The June 30 statement, referenced above, makes a similar point about rejecting Brevard’s claims.
The letter also sheds light on the circumstances that led to the lawsuit’s short lifespan. It states that Brevard sued after NAR “objected” to her breaching a nondisclosure clause in her employee termination agreement. But Brevard then withdrew the lawsuit when NAR “reminded the employee’s attorney of the proper procedure for resolving issues, threatened sanctions, and identified the serious, contrary information NAR would disclose when it responded” in court.
The letter does not say what additional information NAR might have disclosed or in what ways that information might have offered a narrative “contrary” to Brevard’s version of events. It also doesn’t detail the alleged nondisclosure breach, or NAR’s objection, that preceded Brevard’s lawsuit.
Brevard received $107,000 from NAR, according to her attorney. Settlements were also reportedly paid to other women who suffered alleged harassment at the association.
The letter notes that NAR tried to ‘support’ Parcell
The letter overall adopts a sympathetic posture toward Parcell; at one point Drake notes in the letter that she “cannot count” the number of emails she exchanged with NAR’s legal executives and other experts “strategizing ways to support Mr. Parcell, not just NAR.”
Those communications and the “persistence” of NAR’s legal team “ensured that we came up with creative ideas in support of NAR and Mr. Parcell, well beyond what other organizations or companies typically allow,” the letter adds.
For his part, Parcell said in his resignation letter that the allegations against him are “categorically false” and indicated he was stepping down in order to put the “brand first.”
At other points in the letter, Drake praises Goldberg and NAR for rolling out new policies and procedures to combat harassment and mentions that NAR leadership took “disciplinary or other action with specific individuals” — though those individuals are not named. And the letter adds that 2023 “is proceeding smoothly with no new complaints.”
Drake additionally advises NAR leaders to “communicate and behave in a manner that is respectful and, essentially, above reproach.” She later adds that NAR and its leadership shouldn’t publicly comment on the Brevard case.
In the end, the letter also suggests the case could blow over quickly — a notion that, a month and a half and a presidential resignation later, clearly didn’t happen.
“Unless you have leaders gossiping,” Drake said in the letter, “stirring up problems, or allowing others to gossip and stir up problems, this issue should go away quickly for NAR and Mr. Parcell.”
Read the full letter here: