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Cushman & Wakefield hit with $30M race and gender discrimination suit

A $30 million race and gender discrimination lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against multi-billion dollar commercial real estate behemoth Cushman & Wakefield, Inc.

The complaint was filed on behalf of Cushman & Wakefield’s former president of Valuation & Advisory for the Americas Nicole Urquhart-Bradley, who, until her abrupt termination by C&W CEO Shawn Mobley in January 2018, was one of only two remaining female service line leaders at Cushman & Wakefield. Sanford Hesler Sharp, LLP, a leading national public interest law firm, represented Urquhart-Bradley.

The complaint alleges that, while Cushman & Wakefield regularly deployed Ms. Urquhart-Bradley to play the role of ambassador for “diversity” at Cushman & Wakefield, the public image Cushman & Wakefield sought to market was deeply at odds with an entrenched culture of discrimination against women and people of color.

“The evidence we have points to an environment where white men are favored by their male colleagues in senior management, significantly limiting the advancement of women, and particularly women of color,” said Deborah K. Marcuse, lead counsel for Ms. Urquhart-Bradley and managing Partner of Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Baltimore office. “The irony is that Cushman & Wakefield was holding out Ms. Urquhart-Bradley as evidence of its diversity right up until it wrongfully terminated her.”

According to the complaint, Ms. Urquhart-Bradley’s career advancement repeatedly faced discriminatory roadblocks despite her objectively outstanding performance. While Ms. Urquhart-Bradley was tapped to succeed her white male predecessor, and assumed his job responsibilities in August 2016, she was not given his global title and instead, Cushman & Wakefield gave her the lesser title of president of V&A Americas.

“Despite her decades of commitment and stellar performance, it’s clear that Ms. Urquhart-Bradley was not valued by Cushman & Wakefield senior leadership for her demonstrated business acumen, but was instead cynically deployed to advertise Cushman & Wakefield’s supposed commitment to diversity,” said Melinda Koster, an associate at Sanford Heisler Sharp.

Notably, one of Ms. Urquhart-Bradley’s first orders of business in her new role was to defend against a poaching expedition by her predecessor, John Busi, now head of V&A for a competitor firm, Newmark Knight Frank. In the end, despite Mr. Busi’s concerted efforts to raid Cushman & Wakefield V&A for talent after the expiration of his non-solicitation agreement in August 2017, Ms. Urquhart-Bradley successfully retained her entire leadership team. Under her stewardship, Cushman & Wakefield’s V&A practice in 2017 achieved revenue exceeding both its plan for the year and its prior year’s attainment. In recognition of her impressive performance, Ms. Urquhart-Bradley was honored in December 2017 as one of BisNow’s“Women of Influence in Commercial Real Estate.”

Just a month later, however, according to the Complaint, Cushman & Wakefield CEO Mobley abruptly terminated Ms. Urquhart-Bradley, furious that she had dared to request a small fraction of the non-monetary retention benefits her white male subordinates had received and enjoyed. A few months later, Cushman & Wakefield promoted one of those same white male subordinates to replace her, despite the fact that he was far less qualified for the position than Ms. Urquhart-Bradley.

“In the age of MeToo, Cushman & Wakefield is facing a new world, where the old boys’ network behaviors will no longer be tolerated,” said David Sanford, chairman of Sanford Heisler Sharp. “The commercial real estate industry has a long-standing reputation for devaluing women; it’s time they recognize that these behaviors cannot continue.”

As alleged in the complaint, even John Santora, Ms. Urquhart-Bradley’s supervisor and C&W’s President of the Tri-State Region (NY, NJ, CT), expressly acknowledged on a conference call shortly after CEO Mobley terminated Ms. Urquhart-Bradley that Plaintiff’s performance was not the cause of her departure from Cushman & Wakefield. Since Plaintiff’s termination, Cushman & Wakefield has falsely claimed that her separation from Cushman & Wakefield was “mutual,” and has insisted on the enforcement of her twelve-month non-compete agreement, thereby hampering her ability to take another position in her industry and area of expertise.

Ms. Urquhart-Bradley asserts claims under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act. She seeks back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages, as well as attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses, pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, and a jury trial.

Cushman & Wakefield has faced similar discrimination suits in the past, including a $20 million age and gender discrimination from Suzy Reingold in 2013 and a similar $40 million suit from Maria Sicola in 2015. Both previous plaintiffs were also represented by Sanford Hesler Sharp, LLP.

A Cushman & Wakefield spokesperson said they don’t comment on litigation.

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