National Association of Realtors employees repeatedly warned executives about misconduct from “volunteer” leaders — including former President Kenny Parcell — as early as March 2022, nearly 15 months prior to complaints that came to light this summer after a fleeting sexual harassment lawsuit blew open a well of old wounds, according to an internal NAR memo obtained by Inman.
Coupled with a letter unearthed earlier this month from the law firm tapped to investigate claims of harassment, the memo — dated June 29, 2022, and addressed to Donna Gland, NAR’s head of human resources — provides the most compelling paper trail yet showing leadership was aware of a “hostile, toxic work environment” as far back as early 2022, before Parcell officially transitioned into the presidency.
The Utah Realtor was NAR’s president-elect at the time.
The newly surfaced memo describes specific instances of Parcell’s behavior, including some referenced in a withdrawn sexual harassment lawsuit filed in June against the group by Janelle Brevard, NAR’s former chief storyteller, and in a New York Times exposé published in August.
“Over the course of several frank and emotional meetings recently, staff have shared that they are demoralized and traumatized by Leadership Team behavior, particularly over the past 6 months,” wrote Victoria Gillespie, the memo’s author and chief marketing and communications officer from October 2018 until March. She spoke for marketing, communications and events, and leadership resources staff.
In a statement to Inman, NAR spokesperson Mantill Williams said within days of receipt of the 2022 memo, NAR “hired an independent, outside investigator.”
NAR tapped Polsinelli Law Firm to investigate misconduct allegations. That 2022 investigation found evidence of “creepy” and “disrespectful” behavior at the trade group before the Brevard lawsuit was filed, according to a July 2023 letter from the firm to Goldberg obtained by Inman.
The investigation resulted in measures put in place, including creating a “Culture Transformation Commission,” Williams said.
“The Leadership Team adopted a new Leadership Pledge that sets forth the boundaries and proper behavior for interacting with staff and with each other, a new policy regarding when to report a personal relationship with staff, a new policy setting parameters on gifts given to staff, enhanced harassment prevention training and a new policy regarding appropriate behavior at events,” Williams added. “There also will be an evaluation of the way leaders are selected, their roles and how they interact with association staff professionals.”
NAR did not respond when asked for the text of these new policies. Gillespie did not respond to requests for comment.
Last week, Goldberg emailed NAR staff to let them know that NAR’s Executive Committee had created a new policies and procedures member task force that will work with an outside law firm to independently assess NAR’s existing policies and procedures and make recommendations; a new special committee to address claims of member misconduct that will work with a different outside law firm which will independently investigate complaints and report back to the committee; and new processes for having employee-to-employee complaints sent directly to an outside investigator for review. The latter two changes fulfill two of four demands by the NAR Accountability Project, a group created in the wake of the Times exposé.
Read Goldberg’s full memo: (Reload page if memo is not visible)
Earlier this month as Inman reported this story, President Tracy Kasper alerted members to it on NAR’s internal communications platform, The Hub, posting NAR’s full response to a reporter’s questions. Kasper warned members that “It is extremely concerning and a major privacy issue that someone would have shared this with news outlets.” Some staffers perceived this as bullying and last week demanded Kasper’s resignation.
Inman has redacted the names of staff members from the memo who filed complaints and have not previously been publicly named.
Read Tracy Kasper’s message to members and NAR’s full statement to Inman:
‘Narcissistic, racist, toxic, and abusive behavior’
The memo reveals a dysfunctional relationship between the NAR leadership team and NAR staff, the latter of whom the memo said are expected to carry out individual requests and projects assigned to them by the leaders.
NAR’s seven-member leadership team is comprised of the president, president-elect, immediate past president, first vice president, treasurer, vice president of association affairs, and vice president of advocacy, who serve one-year terms with the exception of the treasurer, who serves a two-year term.
All members of the “volunteer” leadership team are paid, and most are paid six figures. In 2021, the most recent year for which public tax filings are available, NAR’s president received $294,798 in compensation, while NAR’s president-elect received $251,788.
“Unfortunately, because there are no guardrails or C- suite pushback on the [Leadership Team]’s continuous micromanagement and unprofessional, last-minute, and non-strategic demands, employees feel intimidated, disrespected, dismissed, and fearful of retaliation,” the memo said.
“Staff is expected to drop everything to meet one-off demands, while still meeting deadlines and delivering quality work on the priorities they’ve been given by the C-suite and member volunteers.”
The memo faulted NAR’s C-suite for not supporting the staff in regards to how the leadership team treats them.
“Staff noted a sense of narcissistic, racist, toxic, and abusive behavior in their dealings with and observations of Leadership Team members.”
An alleged suicidal threat and insult against the CEO
The memo outlined specific experiences NAR staff members allegedly had with Parcell that they reported to Gillespie.
On June 27, 2022, a female staffer told Gillespie about Parcell’s interactions with Amy Swida, a director of business meetings and events at the organization who had been planning a retreat for Parcell beginning in August 2021. In February 2022, Swida was taken off the project at Parcell’s request and told not to contact Parcell because he was “not happy with how the planning of the event was going.”
Swida met with Linda Russell in NAR’s HR department about the incident on March 9, 2022.
Parcell’s removal of Swida from the project prevented Swida “from being able to conduct the responsibilities of her job,” the memo said. “Amy’s supervisor, Stephanie Quinn stated in her exit interview that the way this was handled is one of the reasons she left NAR.”
According to the female staffer, Parcell approached her and “began crying and stated [that] if all did not go right on his leadership term that he would kill himself,” the memo said.
According to the female staffer, Parcell said he’d told Goldberg “that he couldn’t CEO his way out of a paper bag.”
“The President of NAR should be working in conjunction with and supporting the CEO,” the memo said. “It is inappropriate that a member of the leadership team would make a comment like this to an employee.”
The female staffer’s interactions with Parcell made her “extremely uncomfortable,” the memo added.
In an emailed statement to Inman, Parcell said he “never had authority over the employment of NAR employees. Only full-time executives and managers directly employed by NAR have authority over their employees, including hiring, promotion, discipline and termination.”
“Changing work performance expectations is the sign of a strong leader and some employees and leaders apparently resented these changed expectations,” he wrote in his statement to Inman. “Undoubtedly, some employees resented my strong leadership style and couldn’t keep up with these higher expectations.”
“I was not disciplined for any issue raised in the memo,” Parcell said, adding that his “resignation is in no way an admission of guilt.”
Read Parcell’s full statement: (Reload page if statement is not visible)
According to the memo, Parcell sent two female staffers photos of himself wearing a Realtor belt buckle on a Sunday night, April 10, 2022. A screenshot of the photos is included in the memo, which said, “The picture was perceived as inappropriate and offensive by the recipients. It left them feeling uncomfortable because of the area of the body that is depicted in the photo. The image was provided to [NAR Chief Legal Officer] Katie Johnson.”
Parcell told Inman Gillespie’s memo was “old news.”
“I sent the pictures to both male and female staffers,” Parcell said. “The pictures were of a belt buckle I had designed and was excited to give away when I was President.”
Parcell provided Inman with a photograph that is similar, but not identical, to the images included in the memo.
‘An inappropriate invitation’
According to the memo, Parcell invited NAR staffers to stay at his home in Utah while they were filming a biographical piece about him for his inauguration. The two female staffers who reported receiving the belt buckle photos immediately declined, the memo said.
“They both felt it was an inappropriate invitation and were uncomfortable,” the memo said.
Brevard did accept the invitation at first, but then reconsidered. When she told him she was trying to decide where to stay and said she didn’t want to stay at a local motel, Parcell then allegedly became angry and told her she was no longer invited to the shoot.
“Her comment was meant to be out of concern for her safety as a woman traveling alone, but Kenny took her comment as an insult to the area where he lives and that she was ‘above it,'” the memo said.
“She again apologized and tried to reason with him, explaining her role in developing his story and the article for the magazine and that it is her job.”
Despite Brevard pleading with him, Parcell cancelled the shoot while on the phone with her on June 1, 2022, two days before the trip, according to the memo.
“Unfortunately, this rash decision led to lost time and money forfeited, not to mention the ripple effect it had on the morale of team members who had no idea what happened and were led to believe it was something they had done, or not done to his satisfaction (by Kenny).”
According to Parcell, the memo is inaccurate in regards to the context around his decision to discontinue the bio piece.
“I ultimately decided against the bio piece when I learned that certain NAR marketing staffers sought to portray my upbringing in a small Utah town in a negative light, which would have been offensive to my family and hometown friends,” Parcell said.
Parcell and Brevard’s ‘friendship’
The memo describes yet another clash between Parcell and the staff in June 2022, in advance of NAR’s Leadership Summit: The trade group’s production, events and storytelling teams had been working on the event’s run-of-show document outlining the event from start to finish and Parcell asked a staffer to send him the document. That night, June 23, 2022, Parcell and his team completely rewrote the document.
“This was a blow to the team who had already had extensive, in-depth briefing sessions with he and his team to ensure they had a very clear understanding of his expectations and vision and had spent weeks writing and developing the storyboard,” the memo said.
When Brevard “tried to share with him that she did not agree with the way that they handled this with the team,” Parcell “replied that he would have her removed from the program,” the memo added, pointing to a text message included in the memo.
The memo references Parcell and Brevard’s relationship outside of work, revealing that NAR was aware of the relationship.
“Janelle often refers to a ‘friendship’ with Kenny, outside of their working relationship and she was led to believe (by Kenny) that they could talk openly as ‘friends’ and that in those moments they were not leadership and staff, but rather equals on even footing and could trust one another that what they shared was between them,” the memo said.
“This has proven to have a negative effect on her role at NAR and her ability to perform her job is being impacted as he is determining what she can and cannot do, versus her supervisors, in the form of retaliation when she does or says something he doesn’t like. The volatility and impulsiveness of the behavior is concerning, given his position of leadership within the organization.”
Parcell told Inman he never had an affair with Brevard, contradicting Brevard’s claims to the contrary.
“I never had any kind of intimate, sexual, or otherwise inappropriate relationship with Ms. Brevard,” Parcell said.
“I considered Ms. Brevard and many other NAR employees and members to be friends in addition to professional colleagues. I often used ‘love you’ in communications with many colleagues, both male and female, as a way to uplift and express appreciation.
“Ms. Brevard was interviewed by NAR legal counsel and human resources, after which NAR concluded: ‘No one, including Complainant (Ms. Brevard), said Mr. Parcell ever sexually harassed her.'”
In an emailed statement, Brevard told Inman, “I have never seen or been given a copy of any report by NAR, so I have no idea of what was supposedly concluded.”
What NAR can do
The memo ends with several “action items” Gillespie suggested NAR take on in addition to hiring an outside investigator, including providing a confidential hot line for employees to report information impacting their work experience and creating a work group to meet with Goldberg to come up with solutions to staff concerns.
Gillespie also suggested that NAR develop guidelines for the leadership–staff relationship. For instance, the memo recommended that leadership team members and staff have distinct, defined roles and that more detailed roles and responsibilities be added to the NAR Constitution.
The memo also asked for a clear chain of command, pointing out that the NAR Constitution says the CEO reports to the NAR president, but the CEO is in charge of supervising the staff.
The memo also asked for NAR’s constitution and bylaws to be changed to outline the consequences of misconduct from members and the leadership team, which the memo said should mirror the expectations required of staff.
Read the memo: (Reload page if memo is not visible)