Against the backdrop of rising controversy surrounding alleged sexual harassment, Kenny Parcell is stepping down as the president of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR).
Mere days after the New York Times released an exposé unveiling the results of its investigation of NAR and its leadership, Parcell alerted NAR Monday that he would relinquish his seat at the organization’s helm after “a series of accusations against me that are categorically false.”
“I am deeply troubled by those looking to tarnish my character and mischaracterize my well-intended actions,” Parcel wrote in a letter to NAR’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors.
The letter goes on to state:
“During this experience, I’ve opened myself to listening and looking for ways to improve myself, but all I can do is tell the truth. I’ve been shocked by these false accusations, hurtful words, whispers, and character assassination. Putting the organization and the Brand first comes with the title of President. Leadership is about making tough choices; this resignation signifies that I will put the organization’s needs first to move forward above my own personal needs to stay in this position. I truly appreciate the support and true friendships that I have made during my volunteering at NAR.”
The shocking move comes after the equally shocking article has rekindled a dialogue around workplace sexual harassment among industry leaders who have expressed dismay over the findings of the investigative piece.
“I was very disturbed to read the New York Times report on the brazen attitudes and alleged behaviors of leaders at the National Association of REALTORS®,” says Sue Yannaccone, president and CEO of Anywhere Brands and Anywhere Advisors. “Given our predominantly female industry, I am incredibly disappointed by the reporter’s findings as NAR is supposed to be a guidepost for our industry.”
The New York Times report included information compiled from more than two dozen interviews with NAR employees and former leaders corroborating claims of sexual harassment within the trade group, underscored by concerns of retaliation for speaking out.
“There is the sexual harassment, and then woven into it, this culture of fear,” NAR’s former director of business meetings and events told the New York Times. Like other accounts featured in the article, Stephanie Quinn, who quit in 2022, highlighted instances of alleged inappropriate behavior enacted by Parcell towards her and others, and seemingly retaliatory behavior for those who refused.
“I’m scared every day coming to work,” said Amy Swida, a director of business meetings and events at NAR, who is among four of the association’s current employees who have filed complaints against Parcell, according to the Times.
The impetus of the investigative piece—at least partially—comes following a now-defunct lawsuit that was filed by NAR’s former chief storyteller, Janelle Brevard, who claimed that she was harassed and ultimately fired after ending a relationship with Parcell and speaking with lawyers about his alleged sexual harassment against other female employees.
The lawsuit highlighted the “sexually hostile work environment” that Parcell was allegedly investigated over while serving as NAR’s president-elect. The complaint claimed that three female NAR employees had previously complained about Parcell’s alleged sexual misconduct.
It also indicated that Brevard was asked to interview investigators, where she divulged her experiences with Parcell, including an alleged relationship between them that she ended prior to the investigators’ interview.
Brevard claimed she ended things in June 2022 but was harassed and retaliated against when she was fired for allegedly failing to disclose her relationship with Parcell.
Not long after filing her lawsuit, Brevard and her attorneys rescinded her complaint when both sides reached a settlement that left a lot of questions unanswered for onlookers. While further details of the agreement were unclear in July, the Times report indicated that Brevard was offered a severance package of $107,000, which included lawyer fees and a non-disclosure agreement.
NAR was quoted in the New York Times report, describing the deal as a “separation agreement that included a payment to help her move forward in life.”
The Times report also indicated that other women who filed formal harassment complaints have made similar settlements with NAR. Attorneys representing Brevard did not immediately reply to RISMedia requests for comments on this article.
However, Bruce Fox, a lawyer who began representing Ms. Brevard in August, indicated to the Times that NAR’s intimidating role as a legal opponent may have had something to do with Brevard’s agreement to settle.
While the New York Times article focuses predominantly on NAR and allegations against Parcell, it also holds the trade group responsible for general misconduct among its membership of 1.5 million REALTORS®.
While it indicated that NAR executives “have been made aware of complaints” of REALTORS® through the years, the article suggests that the trade group has “continually failed to take action.”
NAR expressed the contrary in a statement responding to RISMedia inquiries about the findings and claims featured in the New York Times article. The trade group stressed that it does not tolerate discrimination, harassment or retaliation while insisting that it follows “clear reporting procedures to investigate any issue of concern brought to our attention.”
“Any incident is one too many,” NAR said. “We acknowledge the people who have shared their stories, and we are committed to continuing our efforts to foster a welcoming and positive environment.”
The organization also said, “NAR has multiple policies and resources in place to deter inappropriate behavior, including anti-harassment and bystander intervention training, and escalation protocols to ensure people are respected. We will remain persistent in continuing to look at and adopt additional best practices.”
Yannaccone tells RISMedia that she planned to reach out to NAR CEO Bob Goldberg on Monday to figure out what the trade group is doing to “properly investigate and take immediate action against all bad actors.”
“I am also calling for an urgent update to NAR’s policies and practices on sexual harassment and discrimination,” she says. “I stand with the women who have bravely spoken up about their painful, appalling experiences and commit to amplifying their voices to drive change.
“Acts of discrimination and harassment have no place in our industry, which values safety, integrity and inclusivity,” Yannaccone continues. “We must prioritize action over words as we work together to guide all people on one of life’s greatest journeys: homeownership.”
Craig Cheatham, president and CEO of The Realty Alliance, echoed similar sentiments in emailed responses sent to RISMedia, expressing disappointment but also hope that recent revelations of misconduct will spur meaningful discussions and change in the industry.
“Denial is the way to allow this problem to worsen, so our first step should be to acknowledge we actually have an issue,” Cheatham says. “It is a shame we lost the momentum of the #MeToo movement and didn’t see more progress within the organizations that are part of the real estate ecosystem.”
While he acknowledges the need for developing, implementing and enforcing policies and courses to teach members about sexual harassment, Cheatham points out that those measures should be considered the bare minimum standards that “simply address the symptoms in many cases.”
“Those who are able and willing to share their experiences should continue to do so if it will be a part of the healing process and will help silence those who seek to deny or minimize the situation,” he says. “We must be understanding of those who cannot share for a variety of perfectly valid reasons. We learn the most from those on the receiving end of this mistreatment, and we must listen to them.”
While she declined to comment specifically regarding the New York Times article or the complaints against NAR, Chris Pelkola Lee, president of the Women’s Council of REALTORS®, tells RISMedia that sexual harassment is never allowable in any professional setting or industry.
“Safety is always an utmost concern for us as agents, particularly as women,” Pelkola Lee says. “When the topic of safety arises, it’s typically thought of as between an agent and a public member, but unfortunately, real estate is not immune from sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Pelkola Lee admits there is no silver bullet to addressing and eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace. However, she tells RISMedia that having a continued dialogue to find and fix the root of the problem is imperative at all levels of the industry.
That discussion has continued to grow in recent months, as well as conversations regarding agent safety in the wake of a controversial sexual assault lawsuit against eXp Realty and eXp World Holdings that is making its way through the court system.
She also believes that increasing women in leadership roles industry-wide is a good starting point.
“Having a wider range of viewpoints and experiences at the decision table can help overcome many of these biases and problems,” she says. We often hear that reference to having a seat at the table, but that’s an important first step.
“It’s imperative that once someone’s at the decision table, everyone there has a voice in that decision making, and their perspectives and experiences are given equal weight because otherwise, it’s just optics,” Pelkola Lee adds.