The opening bell of a courtroom brawl between Keller Williams Realty and eXp World Holdings has been rung, and both companies are duking it out over a controversial executive hire that that latter is trying to make.
The parent company of eXp Realty is contesting a temporary restraining order (TRO) Keller Williams received on Feb. 7, preventing the company’s former CEO, Mark Willis, from joining eXp in an undisclosed executive role. The digital brokerage filed a counter motion to dissolve the TRO the same day a Texas state Judge issued it.
“I am a strong proponent for agent and leadership mobility in the real estate industry,” said Glenn Sanford, founder, chairman, and CEO of eXp World Holdings, in a statement. “We are interested in engaging with Mark Willis because of his management experience and demonstrated leadership in the industry.”
Willis resigned from Keller Williams in 2014, after more than two decades at the Texas-based company. During that time, he helped the real estate firm blossom into the global entity it is today.
Since 2016, his only role with the Keller Williams has been passive ownership in a Keller Williams franchise and two Keller Williams regions.
The courtroom volley stems from allegations that Keller Williams made in a petition filed a year ago, contending that Willis will “inevitably” disclose their confidential information if hired by eXp.
In his statement, Sanford indicated that eXp Realty has no interest in “any competitor’s confidential information” and asserted that the company’s intervention in Keller Williams’ lawsuit is meant to “protect its right to hire qualified real estate professionals.”
“We respect the Court process as well as bona fide agreements that protect a competitor’s confidential information and look forward to a resolution to these matters,” Sanford said.
While the court agreed to temporarily deny Willis’ from joining eXp based on Keller William’s allegations, eXp argued in its countermotion that KW’s “inevitable disclosure theory is factually and legally without merit.”
To drive their point home, eXp alleged that while Keller Williams was vying for injunctive relief, it was “secretly recruiting” eXp’s former president, Stacey Onnen, who was hired on Feb. 4 to join the company’s executive team.
“Renowned for an ability to operationally scale brokerages through periods of rapid growth, Stacey stands apart as a strong leader in our industry, and we’re proud she has chosen to bring her extensive knowledge and skills to Keller Williams,” said Carl Liebert, CEO of kwx, the holding company of Keller Williams, in a press release announcing Onnen’s hiring on Feb. 7.
eXp argued that KW’s position that Willis would “inevitably disclose” confidential information because of his past employment and present, passive investments in with the company’s entities conflicts with KW hiring Onnen.
“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. Intervenors contend that KWRI’s” read an excerpt from the filing.
eXp also indicated that Keller Willaims tried to prevent Willis from cutting ties within his passive ownership with the company’s entities.
“In an effort to extend those restrictive covenants and prevent Willis from divesting those interests, KWRI has communicated with prospective purchasers of Willis’ interests and interfered with those prospective purchases, thus further impeding right to hire Mr. Willis,” read the motion.
In response to RISMedia requests for comments on the ongoing legal battle, kwx spokesperson, Darryl Frost said, “As a matter of policy, we typically don’t comment on pending litigation.”
State court Judge Cleve Doty scheduled another hearing for Feb. 18 to hear evidence from both parties and determine whether or not to extend the injunction.
Jordan Grice is RISMedia’s associate online editor. Email him your real estate news to firstname.lastname@example.org.