Posted September 26th, 2018.
By Braden Campbell
Law360 (September 26, 2018, 9:45 PM EDT) — A black ex-Cushman & Wakefield executive has hit the real estate firm with a $30 million suit in Washington, D.C., federal court claiming it fired her because she wanted benefits equal to her white, male colleagues and not because she was disloyal, as she claims the firm told her.
Monica Nicole Urquhart-Bradley, who was Cushman’s head of valuation and advisory for the Americas, alleges in a suit filed Tuesday that the firm discriminated against her based on her race and sex by firing her for leveraging a job offer to seek greater job protections shortly after it doled out millions of dollars in bonuses to woo white male executives not to join a competitor. It did so despite Urquhart-Bradley playing a key role in convincing these and other colleagues to turn down job offers and stay with Cushman, she claims.
She said Cushman “granted six- and seven-figure retention bonuses” to white men who had “actively pursued offers from competitors in the V&A space.” But “for simply considering an offer from a noncompetitor, by contrast, Ms. Urquhart-Bradley was summarily terminated by C&W,” she said.
Urquhart-Bradley claims Cushman has treated her unfairly based on her race since 2010, when she claims then-CEO for the Americas Jim Underhill tried to block her promotion to U.S. V&A head. She claims Underhill could not say why he opposed her promotion and that she and her then-boss, Global V&A head John Busi, attributed it to bias.
Urquhart-Bradley got the job and performed well in the role until 2016, when she succeeded Busi after he left for competitor Newmark Knight Frank. But she says the firm only named her president of V&A Americas despite her taking on Busi’s job duties, another slight she attributes to race bias in her suit.
Busi later tried to poach leadership and staff from Cushman in what the firm called “the Newmark Siege,” she claims. Urquhart-Bradley then worked “tirelessly” to retain workers, ultimately helping Cushman keep on the full V&A leadership team and more than two-thirds of the workers Busi had tried to hire, she claims. The firm gave out about $14 million in retention bonuses to leadership, she said.
Urquhart-Bradley said she got an offer from a competitor in December and asked to speak to Cushman CEO Shawn Mobley about adding protections to her contract “in the event of … changes in reporting or organization.” But Mobley dodged multiple requests to sit down and in early January he fired her, ostensibly because she had not been loyal to Cushman, she said. The firm is also enforcing a 12-month noncompete agreement against her, she said.
That Cushman cut ties with Urquhart-Bradley despite her success building the firm’s V&A practice showcases the “truism … that discrimination is irrational,” her attorney Deborah Marcuse told Law360.
“It doesn’t make good business sense, because getting rid of Nicole Urquhart-Bradley did not make good business sense,” said Marcuse, a partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP.
Urquhart-Bradley claims several former Cushman execs have said they believe the firm hired her because she is a black woman, including Busi, ex-V&A leadership team David Gray and ex-head of human resources for the Americas Charlene Pincus.
The suit alleges violations of Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the D.C. Human Rights Act. Urquhart-Bradley is seeking $10 million in pay and benefits and $20 million in punitive damages, plus fees and costs.
A representative for Cushman declined comment Wednesday.
Urquhart-Bradley is represented by David Sanford, Melinda Koster and Deborah Marcuse of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP.
Attorney information for the firm was not available Wednesday.
The case is Nicole Urquhart-Bradley v. Cushman & Wakefield Inc., case number 1:18-cv-02213, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Washington, D.C.
–Editing by Alanna Weissman.