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A real estate agent has won nearly $800,000 in damages after a federal court found that a prominent realtor wrongfully fired her for filing a discrimination complaint.
Agent Shauncy Claud was the only black agent associated with Hamptons-based Brown Harris Stevens when she joined the six-office brokerage in November 2016. complaint filed in March 2018, Claud alleged that BHSH treated her differently because of her race and that she was terminated in June 2017 in retaliation for a complaint she filed with the firm two weeks before she was fired.
In her complaint, she cited a pattern of racial discrimination by her immediate supervisor, stating that he “made [her] unpleasant with [her] race a [she] did not receive such support [she] saw him give [her] colleagues.”
This included allegedly calling Claude a “pit bull” that he “likes[s] taking things from others,” he told her, “[G]google it and find out” when she asked for advice and refused other requests for help and mentorship he made to other agents, reassigned the listings Claud obtained to other agents and told her for no apparent reason that she was “the only black agent in the Hamptons ” in response to a question about her work.
The case went to trial in February. Last week, Judge Nina R. Morrison of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled that Claud had shown that BHSH’s termination was retaliatory, in violation of federal law.
“To be clear, under the terms of her independent agent agreement with BHSH, Claud was an independent contractor who could be terminated for any non-discriminatory reason, even arbitrary,” Morrison wrote. Judgment of June 7.
“Nevertheless, federal law protects a plaintiff who engages in protected activity — here, alleging racial discrimination by a supervisor — and is retaliated against as a result. The only issue is whether Claud was terminated because of the BHSH offered, or whether it was a pretext for retaliation as a result of her discrimination complaint.
“I found that the reason offered by BHSH for Claude’s termination was purely a pretext. I further find that due to BHSH’s breach of her right to contract and the substantial damages caused, Claud is entitled to both compensatory and punitive damages.’
Shaun W. Pappas, a partner at Starr Associates LLP, a New York law firm not connected to the case, told Inman that brokers cannot hide under an independent employment agreement if they fire an agent for discriminatory reasons.
“Typically, you can be fired for any reason other than race, ethnicity, religion, things like that,” Pappas said in a phone interview.
“So if these allegations are proven in a court of law that the agent was fired based on these types of discriminatory reasons, then the company could be held entirely responsible.”
According to Pappas, businesses and courts take allegations of civil rights violations “very seriously.”
“Such allegations with any evidence behind them will be very difficult for the company to overcome,” he said.
Brown Harris Stevens, the parent company of BHSH, promised to appeal the decision in an emailed statement.
“Brown Harris Stevens has always championed non-discrimination in all settings and is disappointed by the current decision, particularly as the previous decision in the case rejected any claims of discrimination,” the company said. “We will continue to file appeals.”
A reference to a previous decision in the case refers to a claim under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which alleges discrimination on the basis of race. This claim was dismissed in July 2020, as the court found that Claud “did not present sufficient evidence” that she was treated differently than other similarly situated non-African American agents when she was released. A retaliation claim under the same anti-discrimination law survived.
In a telephone interview with Inman, Claud said that six years after her termination, she was “really happy” to see “some accountability” for how she was treated and the impact it had on her.
“Brown Harris Stevens treated me very badly and unfairly and I’m really happy with the outcome and being able to tell my story,” said Claud. “By doing this, I hope I can encourage other people to come forward if they’re in an unfortunate situation, if they’re dealing with something like this.” The result kind of speaks for itself. I’m really glad there’s justice in this case and maybe I’ll set a precedent moving forward.”
Claude’s experience is notable in part because of where it occurred. In 2019, the Long Island newspaper Newsday published a groundbreaking, three-year investigation which revealed a widespread bias against color consumers in the region. Brown Harris Stevens was not one of the 12 brokers included in this study. However, Claud said she was not surprised by the investigation’s findings.
“I feel that discrimination has an impact on people [and is] more pronounced on the east end of Long Island compared to other areas,” Claud said.
She sees a connection between what she experienced and what the investigation found. She would like to see “more diverse representation within these real estate brokerages and at all levels, not just agents, but management levels and executive levels and above,” and believes that more minority representation in brokerages would lead to less consumer discrimination.
“I think that would be a really good start,” Claud said.
“I would like to see the changes move forward,” she added. “People are treated legally, fairly, fairly.”
Claud said her experience at Brown Harris Stevens “destroyed” her career as a real estate agent, and in 2019 she moved to Atlanta to work in real estate acquisitions and earn a master’s degree in legal studies. She does not have a real estate license there, but has retained her license in New York.
“I don’t have the connection,” Claud said. “I was from Southampton and that’s where my parents are from. My grandparents lived there. I went to high school in Southampton and knew the area like the back of my hand.’
Claud added that she was grateful to her lawyers for their work, saying she approached about 50 lawyers before the firm took on her case because of her status as an independent contractor who could be fired for any legal reason.
“I took the case because I believed, and still believe, that Shauncy was discriminated against by Brown Harris,” Claude’s attorney, Oliver Koppell of the law firm G. Oliver Koppell & Associates, said in an emailed statement to Inman. “As a lawyer, I am committed to achieving justice.
His co-counsel, Daniel F. Schreck, told Inman that Claud would seek attorney’s fees from Brown Harris Stevens in addition to the court-ordered damages. The award includes compensatory damages for back pay and emotional distress and $200,000 in punitive damages, for a total of $787,896.68.