Ex-Cushman & Wakefield Executive Sues Firm Over Race, Gender Claims

Posted September 25th, 2018.

As It Appeared On
National Law Journal GlobeSt

“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,” a lawyer for the former Cushman & Wakefield executive, Nicole Urquhart-Bradley, said.

By Erin Mulvaney

A former Cushman & Wakefield executive who says the global real estate company used her as a face of workplace diversity sued the company in Washington federal court on Tuesday for alleged race and gender discrimination, claiming persistent roadblocks and unequal treatment.

The complaint was filed by Nicole Urquhart-Bradley, the former head of valuation and advisory for the Americas. Urquhart-Bradley, an African-American female executive who had worked at Cushman for more than a decade, was terminated in January.

Urquhart-Bradley’s complaint, filed by the plaintiffs firm Sanford Heisler Sharp, alleged a culture of discrimination at the company, where women and minorities allegedly faced more roadblocks than white males. The complaint said that despite above-average performance reviews, Urquhart-Bradley was terminated because of her race and gender.

“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,” Deborah Marcuse, lead counsel for Urquhart-Bradley, said in a statement. “The irony is that Cushman & Wakefield was holding out Ms. Urquhart-Bradley as evidence of its diversity right up until it wrongfully terminated her.”

Cushman & Wakefield is represented by Mary Dollarhide, a DLA Piper partner in San Diego. Dollarhide was not immediately reached for comment Tuesday, and neither was a spokesperson for Cushman & Wakefield.

Urquhart-Bradley was promoted in 2016, but she did not receive her predecessor’s title of president of global valuation and advisory. The complaint said Urquhart-Bradley instead was given the “lesser title of president of valuation and advisory Americas.” The lawsuit alleged Urquhart-Bradley was one of the two remaining female service-line leaders at Cushman & Wakefield when she was fired this year.

Urquhart-Bradley claims she successfully fended off a mass poaching attempt by her previous boss’s new firm. Cushman offered six-to-seven-figure bonuses to top-performing team members to get them to decline competing offers. She also helped the firm exceed its revenue plan for the year and surpassing the previous year. In 2017, she was named in BisNow’s “Women of Influence in Commercial Real Estate.”

Her lawsuit claimed she was treated differently when she discussed a competing offer from another real estate firm that wanted to hire her. Urquhart-Bradley said she did not ask for a retention bonus, but, rather, a contract renegotiation. By comparison, she alleged in her lawsuit, her predecessor was offered $3 million to stay. The company, according to the lawsuit, used up Urquhart-Bradley’s competing offer as the root of her termination.

“She wasn’t asking for money at that time. She asked for modest protections in her contract that high level executives regularly request,” Marcuse said in an interview Tuesday. “Clearly, the CEO was outraged. The question that we face is why there was a profound difference in reaction to a high-level African-American woman who doesn’t actually threaten to leave and her male counterparts.”

The lawsuit claims that Urquhart-Bradley’s termination followed years of hostile treatment by executives, including fighting to keep her from promotions she had earned. She was accused of being “defensive” and that “if she wanted to be ‘taken seriously’ she needed to ‘stop whining’ and ‘get with the program.’”

“Urquhart-Bradley became accustomed to playing the role of ambassador for ‘diversity’ at C&W, which regularly deployed her to project a public image that was at odds with a deeply entrenched culture of discrimination against women and people of color,” according to the lawsuit.

Marcuse said the #MeToo movement has drawn attention to sexual harassment in the workplace, but gender discrimination is still pervasive across professional industries.

“The disrespect that women at the highest levels still face is oppressive and depressing,” she said. “Insults at comments directed at her and other women in that situation reflects the deeply entrenched culture which is oppressive for the few people who are women and people of color who manage to somehow prosper to rise to the level she did in that culture.”

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