Ex-Bespoke exec alleges racial discrimination, harassment
A former Bespoke executive alleged his time at the luxury brokerage was plagued by discriminatory and overtly racist behavior from co-workers and the firm’s founders.
Jarret Willis, who is Black, alleges in a complaint filed in New York Supreme Court founders Cody and Zachary Vichinsky engaged in overtly racist behavior and allowed other employees to use slurs when addressing him.
In the complaint, filed with former colleague Harlan Goldberg, Willis alleges the founders and other employees discriminated against him, disparaged him in racist terms and had a white employee contact his clients to demand they deal with him and not Willis.
“Bespoke unequivocally denies these false and untrue allegations, which arose regarding an ongoing attempt to collect unjustified commissions from the company,” the brokerage said in a statement.
Joseph De Sane, a managing director at Bespoke, called the allegations “the furthest thing from any truth I have ever known here.”
Willis was promoted to vice president of Bespoke Parallel in April 2021, a division of Bespoke that seeks to establish the brokerage in new markets. In that position, Willis interacted with the Vichinskys and an employee in the New York office secretary, who the complaint says used the N-word on a daily basis when addressing Willis in person and over text message.
“Happy birthday you n*****!!!!” an office employee said to Willis on August 17, 2022, according to a text message viewed by The Real Deal.
The Vichinskys also participated in the verbal abuse, according to an employment complaint Willis filed with the New York Division of Human Rights, including when Cody employed the N-word and suggested he and Willis get watermelon and fried chicken for lunch.
The complaint said the Vichinskys also nicknamed Willis “Jafar” after the villainous cartoon character in Disney’s “Aladdin.”
Willis and Goldberg alleged the Vichinskys’ discrimination went beyond a toxic work environment to include demotions and withheld commissions.
After reporting a white broker for interfering with his clients, the complaint says Willis was demoted from his role as vice president and missed out on more than $1 million owed in commission from procuring a buyer at the Waldorf Astoria Residences Miami.
“I know that the real estate industry will come together to pounce out any form of discrimination and make sure that bad actors like this are unable to work in our industry,” attorney Adam Leitman Bailey said in a statement. “We hope this is the last civil rights case we ever have to bring as a law firm.”