The Short Version:
In 2011, I was hired by a Fortune 500 company. My 2nd year with the company, I got pregnant. The manager and head of my program told me my career was over and that she was going to hire someone to replace me. She threw me off my team, cut me out of commissions, deals, assignments, bad mouthed me in a smear campaign and said that I was a mother now, with a family and was too old. She buried me. I fought an uphill battle for 7 years. My family is counting on me to succeed. We need change.
The Full Story:
THE POSTERCHILD FOR SUCCESS
In 2011, I was hired into brokerage by a fortune 500 company, the largest and most successful Commercial Real Estate Company in the world. I was one of the first post-recession hires, full of passion and drive. Within 3 months I was selected to attend their exclusive week-long training in Chicago that was mostly reserved for brokers with several years of experience. I was on the fast track. “We want to get back to the old way of selecting new hires, people with proven track records, with door to door sales experience, like Casey Jahn.” That was me.
I started in their junior broker training program to be groomed as a broker. They said the ramp up was 2-3 years, less for me because I was a seasoned sales professional. My dad was a commercial real estate top performer there, my aunt on the residential side. I felt blessed with mentors. I was made for this. I was also a competitive athlete. Everything I’d accomplished had led me to this point. I believed it would only be a matter of time before I was one of their top performers myself. Anything was possible. I was ready.
In my personal life, I met a man, fell in love, and after 18 months with the company, I was pregnant.
This is where my story turns.
MY FEMALE MANAGER: PROTECTOR OF THE BOYS CLUB / ENFORCER OF SYSTEMIC SEX AND PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION
Upon telling my manager that I was pregnant, she was visibly angry with me. She told me that children are great (she has several herself) but I’d made my choice and I couldn’t have both a career in brokerage and a family. She told me that if anyone ever tells me that I can make it in this business and be successful and have children they are lying. You can’t. She said it over and over to drill it into my head.
“I’m going to hire someone to replace you,” she said. And what’s maybe most shocking, is that this was a senior level FEMALE manager.
I walked out of that office and mentioned our conversation to a male broker sitting across from me. He said it sounded like something she would say.
Wait a minute. The company culture tolerated her behavior and worse, supported it.
Nancy, my manager, wasn’t done there. She made fun of me at the office, announcing that I couldn’t think because I was pregnant, and told me I should work longer hours because I would be taking time off to have my baby.
I was stunned. How could someone tell me that I was no longer welcome because I chose to become a mother? That is against the law. But I was extremely pregnant – 6 months along, hormonal, and scared to death. My fiancé was out of work and I had become the primary breadwinner for him, my stepson, and our son on the way. I had a lot to lose. I had to make this work. To that point, I’d always been up for a challenge and often found success. “Perseverance prevails” was my motto. So that’s exactly what I decided to do. I persevered.
I talked myself into believing that what Nancy meant was that she would replace me while I was on maternity leave, but that would be it, a temporary thing. I was wrong. While I was out, a friend called me and said, “I think I just interviewed for your position.” My first day back after having my baby, I was told that I was off my team, off all my accounts, and no longer needed in the office. I was told that I was not allowed to meet with my senior (male) broker to discuss. I was not allowed to negotiate getting paid for any of the deals I had been working on, which was customary. It was already decided. She told me that she’d give me the few weeks left on my contract (before I was to go 1099 and join the team as an official broker) and as a favor to me, she’d let me keep my computer and company email address until the end of that period and suggested I go figure out where I was going to work.
At this point, the milk was literally leaking through my blouse. It was scary enough that I walked into our most buttoned up, conservative office, our Global Headquarters located in Downtown Los Angeles, 30 pounds overweight, post-partum, recovering from a cesarean, A-game on, fighting for my future. If it were a fair playing field it would have been fine, but it wasn’t. This was NOT about ability or performance. This was pregnancy and sex discrimination. It was illegal and cruel.
Discrimination can be measured by comparing how members of an office are treated. If one person is treated differently, unfairly, that’s discrimination. In my case, I had an excellent comparison. My partner, a male in his 60’s, was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the same time that I was pregnant. He was allowed to skip weeks at the office to undergo medical treatment, with none of the same consequences that I faced. To accommodate his medical condition, the company allowed him to work from home and from other offices to attend regular doctors visits and recover. His medical condition did not influence the company in any decisions to allow him to maintain his accounts. I was not so lucky.
In short, I was denied the same accommodations provided to a similarly situated colleague. That is against the law.
I countered by confirming that it was her job as the head of the Junior Broker program and manager of the DTLA office to find me a position. She was doing that for all my male counterparts and everyone else in the program. She agreed that she was doing that for others, but said that at this point I was too old (37) and had a family. She only knew how to give advice to the “younger juniors who were just out of college,” and she couldn’t help me.
I walked out of that room, wishing I’d gotten this discrimination on tape. I hadn’t. I didn’t know what to do. For months, years afterward, I would lay awake at night wishing I’d walked into that room with a tape recorder.
Why aren’t our rights as working mothers as clear as our rights around sexual harassment? They should be. Pregnancy discrimination is wrong. Only after years of considering how something like this could happen, did I find the compassion to realize that my boss herself had probably been abused and mistreated, on her uphill battle, with no advocates in corporate America. Her own experience had turned her into a protector of the old boys’ club and oppressor of women.
I spent the next few weeks interviewing all over town and got multiple offers including one from another office within the company. In the end, I was already at the most reputable firm, the one I’d worked so hard to become a part of, and I wasn’t about to let the fact that I now had a baby squash my dreams. I would do my best not to let this woman discriminate against me because I was pregnant and now a mother. This company was the market leader. The best of the best and I was one of them. With the firm’s reputation behind me, it would be easier to get meetings than anywhere else. Even though it was a demotion, I would stay. That said, I was 2-plus years into my 2 to 3 year ramp up and it looked like I was going to have to start over – and now I had a baby.
PREGNANCY AND SEX DISCRIMINATION: ROUND 2
At my core, I am a fighter. I understand hard work. I know how to stay the course and maintain focus on my goals in spite of obstacles. I found a potential opportunity in our West Los Angeles Office. According to the manager (lets call him Manager Tim) there was a mid-level broker who we’ll call Cal, who needed help with his workload. Under the suggestion of Manager Tim, if I could get Broker Cal, to agree to work with me, Manager Tim would give me a desk in his office. I met with broker Cal. He agreed to let me help him. The deal was that I would work his existing listings in exchange for experience and exposure; he wasn’t going to pay me. On future deals, any leads that I independently sourced, we would split 50/50. Manager Tim endorsed this arrangement and as a result of this partnership wherein I help his broker, I was given a desk in the West Los Angeles Office. I took the position.
At the time I didn’t realize that this was a terrible deal. Broker Cal needed an assistant to help with his listings, but the company didn’t want to pay for it and neither did he. I was an easy fix. No one should ever work for free in a contractual agreement where you will be judged on how much money you make.
Broker Cal and manager Tim were no better than the female manager, running my junior broker program and managing Downtown LA. I set a lot of meetings and sourced a bunch of business for Broker Cal. Management and my senior partner told me I was doing great. Shortly thereafter I became pregnant with my second child. I soon realized that the call backs and second meetings were coming in from the leads I was sourcing, but Broker Cal wasn’t including me in all of them. People also started advising me that he was using me as a scapegoat to his Landlord clients when it served him.
At that point, I went out on my second maternity leave. Upon my return from a very short maternity, I set a meeting with him to discuss. He stood me up several times. When we finally got together, and I raised my concerns and confronted him, he ended it.
He said that he could make more money if he didn’t “partner” with a broker like me. He said he couldn’t tell me what to do like he could a younger assistant or broker. I was too old, a mother with two kids and a family. It was déjà vu. After two years promoting him, setting meetings, and going to pitches on business and leads that I brought in, it was over. I continued to have no guidance, no support, no advocates. When our partnership split, the only thing my manager asked was if I could do it on my own. And I found myself starting over yet again, now more than four years after I was hired. This time, I was out of reserve capital.
Deal cycles in commercial real estate are typically 6 to 18 months or longer. It takes even more time to get paid, which meant that after parting ways with Broker Cal, I had another year or two to go (minimum) before I would see a return on my efforts. In financial preparation for a career in brokerage, you prepare to cover 2 to 3 years of living expenses, but at that point expect to make money. I was not prepared for 5 or 6 years or more. Life was getting really hard and I had a growing family.
REPORTING Pregnancy DISCRIMINATION TO HR DIDN’T MATTER
In Manager Tim’s office, I was treated differently than my male counterparts. Was it pregnancy discrimination or sex discrimination? I’m not sure, but it was definitely unfair. My male partner and I had babies within 6 months of each other. I did not get a congratulatory email sent to the entire office. My partner did. I did not get recognized for my 5-year anniversary. My male colleagues did. Their names, picture, tenure, announced at our annual meeting with a powerpoint slide dedicated to them, celebrating them for their achievement in front of the approximately 150 people in attendance including my entire West Los Angeles Office, upper management, Nancy (the manager who kicked me out of the Global Headquarters for getting pregnant) and our Regional Director. I did not get that recognition or any other support.
It was happening to other females in the office as well. I was not alone. The thing about this type of discrimination is that it’s subtle. No one is beating you with a stick in the hallway. They are not spitting on you in public. But Management is sending a subtle message to everyone in the office. Some people are worthy, and some are not. In an environment where it is expected that you partner, network, and develop business within the company, this puts those who are not getting elevated, supported internally and recognized by management at a severe disadvantage.
At the same time this was happening, I’d heard about what people were calling an internal “Class Action” against my previous manager Nancy, the woman who decided the course of my career. Dozens of women allegedly came out in 2016 against her. One of the main women who came forward called me. She urged me to come forward. She said that she thought my experience would be “the nail in her coffin.” I phoned HR. The HR Director, told me that I could not add my story to the group file against Nancy, that the case was closed. I eventually called back and attempted to file an individual case about my experience. The HR Director said it sounded like I just needed to “get it off my chest” and dismissed me. She suggested I call back if anything new happened. I was shocked.
I was tossed around, bad mouthed, lied about, used as a scapegoat for mistakes that were not my own, cheated out of deals, advised by my manager to take assignments that hurt my career and my reputation, discriminated against and demoted because I was pregnant and perhaps because I was a woman, and finally dodged by my partner, my Manager and our Regional Director and ultimately dismissed by HR when I asked for help. I was one of 5 to 7 female brokers in my office of over 86 male brokers and unlike the men, I was experiencing a pattern of discrimination. I’m not sure if it was exclusively pregnancy discrimination or if it was also sex discrimination because I was a female in a sea of men, but it was clear that the men and women were not being treated equally, both in pay and in support.
At home, life was beyond hard. My husband tried to start his own business. Unfortunately, he launched on the heels of the recession and when it was unsuccessful, was subsequently unemployed for 2 years. The year after my first son was born we qualified for state subsidized child care and the free lunch program at his preschool. This is not the career or the trajectory I’d planned for. It seemed like I was running on water and sinking fast.
THE LIES. THE HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT. THE CONSTRUCTIVE DISCHARGE
2 years after my partnership with Broker Cal dissolved, my 7th year with the company and without any prior notice, they served me a MUMO letter. MUMO stands for Manage UP Manage Out because that’s what they do once they have given it to you. In short, my manager came to me and said, “Casey, you aren’t making enough money. If you don’t pull in approximately $22,600 a month, starting this month through the end of the year, to meet our new yearly quota for you, we will likely have to terminate you. We either manage you up or manage you out.” And that was that. Without any discussion of the 4 years of discrimination and setbacks, which included starting my business plan over three times, I was given an impossible time frame in which to achieve their goals and I was on my way out.
I went to the Regional Director to discuss what had been happening since he’d hired me and touted me as their heroic role model for incoming juniors. Upon hearing my story he looked surprised. He said that all of this made him want to give me a big hug. He said he understood because he has two daughters, one of them also a mother in the industry. He knew first hand how hard it could be for a pregnant mother, a breadwinner, who wasn’t getting treated fairly after a maternity leave. He said he would find a place for me. I was part of the company family. He would call managers in various departments and would find me a paid position. He suggested that given the financial hardship I was faced with as a result of my experience with the company’s Brokerage Department, a salaried position would be the best solution. He said he would get to the bottom of this situation with my previous partner Broker Cal, who broke company policy and unfairly removed me from our joint listings and was now dodging my calls. Our Regional Director said it wasn’t okay and he was going to make it right. I believed him. That was a mistake. It was lip service.
According to my lawyer (and Wikipedia) Constructive Discharge occurs when an employee resigns as a result of the employer creating a hostile work environment. Since the resignation is not truly voluntary, it is, in effect, a termination. For example, when an employer places extraordinary and unreasonable work demands on an employee to obtain their resignation, this can constitute a constructive dismissal. The employee may resign over a single serious incident or over a pattern of incidents. Generally, a party seeking relief must have resigned soon after one of the constructive acts.
Almost immediately after meeting with our Regional Director, I was removed from the company database, office group email, locked out of our phone system, and my email was designated with a number reserved for terminated employees. The MUMO letter was bogus, so was the Regional Director’s response. It seemed they never intended to manage me up, nor did the Director, to my knowledge, try to make it right. Despite my attempts over the next few weeks to follow up with him, I never heard from him again. I was played.
I should have known something wasn’t right when I told him about my experience with Nancy and his first response was, “This is so surprising to hear. It doesn’t sound like her at all.” REALLY? What’s surprising is his reaction. Was he not aware of the HR cases against her and the disciplinary action taken? He was her boss! And if he did know, how is this possibly surprising? It is exactly the kind of thing that she was tasked to do and reported for. To my knowledge, over two dozen women across all levels of our company came forward. The total number of people I heard from multiple sources was FORTY TWO. Still, they did not fire her. I can only imagine that what she did to me is not a surprise and completely in line with the instructions of the company. In fact when I complained to a local manager about her, he said, yeah that sounds like her. She isn’t very nice. At least he was honest. And yet upper management and the culture continues to act as if they are surprised women complain. I should have recognized our Regional Director’s double speak in that moment, when he said he would help me but was surprised by her actions. It didn’t add up. I was too naïve to see it.
A few weeks later, as I struggled to get my barings in this now impossible and extremely stressful work environment, where I couldn’t even log into my phone, I spoke with an attorney within the company. I told her what had been happening. She said that there were some “serious red flags here” and recommended I speak with the Global Head of Ethics and Compliance, a man we’ll call Brett, based in Downtown Los Angeles. I told her I’d already spoken to HR and that they dismissed me. She gave me her opinion about HR. Her comments made me think that she thought HR was pretty worthless when it comes to helping employees. She said they are often and not surprisingly unhelpful, but that Brett was different. She said he needed to hear about this and urged me to meet with him. She connected us in an email. We met. Again, I told my story. Brett said that what happened to me was wrong and against company policy and that he would investigate. I asked him why Nancy still had her job after everything she’d done to everyone. He said that they investigated all the claims and took appropriate disciplinary actions. He thanked me for my time. I never heard from him again.
In the end, in spite of all the people that came forward against her, the company did not fire her. They hired outside counsel to assess the situation. In this case outside counsel is not to prosecute her, it’s to measure the case against her and decide how to best protect the company and mitigate its exposure. Likely because she herself is in a protected employment class, they allegedly concluded it was riskier to fire her than to isolate her. To my knowledge, they put her in another department without any subordinates and left it at that. As for my claims, I’m not sure they even investigated them. When this was written, she was labeled as Talent Recruiter. I continued to get emails from her and about her regularly until I left the company. She had frequent posts on Instagram with the Regional Director at her side, at his house for company sponsored events for many months afterward. She came up under him and was his Executive Assistant for many years before being promoted to a managerial role and handing over her position to her niece.
SYSTEMIC PREGNANCY AND SEX DISCRIMINATION IS UNSUSTAINABLE
I’m left wondering what happened to this amazing opportunity? What happened to the girl who could stare down adversity and rise above to find success? The answer I keep coming back to is that I’m female, I got pregnant, I was discriminated against, and I’ve got no one advocating for me. What happened to me is certainly not legal. But it’s also not fair. And it’s not sustainable. In a society where women like myself are often the breadwinners, we can’t continue to let major employers create systemic barriers that prevent working mothers with talent and perseverance from supporting their families.
Forty percent of households today have a female breadwinner, that number goes up when factoring in race or ethnicity. The number of households with female breadwinners is on the rise and will likely reach fifty percent in the next 10 years. If you are black or Latino that number is already well over fifty percent. In 2012, the number of stay-at-home fathers doubled since 1989. When we don’t support women, we have a problem that affects our entire middle class, our economy and the future of our families, our children and generations to come.
What happened to me does not happen to men. If my dad had a son, we would not be here. I would have a successful career in brokerage. For me, there is no recourse for being blacklisted as a working mom. Once you have that Scarlet Letter on your chest, that’s it. I learned the hard way. 7 years of my working life sucked up just like that, and years more to recover, my earning potential severely impacted.
I used to sit at the table in my suit, shoulder to shoulder with the men, and think that I had arrived. Looking out across the crisp clean boardroom of shiny glass and a granite table top stretching the length of the room, lined with Ipads and starched shirts, it seemed that I was exactly where I wanted to be. The future was mine. We were all on the same starting line, running the same race, which in my mind made it a level playing field. Now, it’s clear that it was not. I was never going succeed.
The 7 years (almost to the day) with this company were challenging in ways I could never imagine. My company culture felt toxic and unprofessional. The discrimination I’ve experienced is unacceptable. And it’s not just me. There are so many women out there, who are being discriminated against because they are female or decide to have a baby. We need change.
MANDATORY ARBITRATION CLAUSE HURTS THE EMPLOYEE
In 2004, over sixteen thousand women came forward in a Class Action Lawsuit against my now ex-company. The court awarded the women 34 million dollars. In the late 90’s another woman was awarded millions for discrimination and harassment. It seems that rather than change the culture, the company changed their employment letters. Somewhere in the early 2000’s, they added an “Arbitration Clause” to their employment letters.
An Arbitration Clause is, in effect, a loophole that corporate lawyers have created to protect their large corporate clients. By agreeing to an Arbitration clause, which often goes unnoticed in these employment letters, an employee waives his/her right to a trial by jury. If there is a dispute and the employee pursues legal action, instead of going to trial by jury, where victims of discrimination and harassment have the sympathy and judgement of their peers, the employee is relegated to an Arbitrator. More often than not, he’s a white retired male judge. These decisions cannot be appealed and typically result in a marginal award to the employee, which is very different from a jury trial. The payout to victims via Arbitration is far less than in court.
Big penalties like the 34 million dollar Class Action Lawsuit in 2004 are the awards that instigate and often mandate change in cases of sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. They are the types of verdicts that make companies think twice about their culture and treatment of their employees. As a result of the 2004 case, a Women’s Networking Group was initiated with a $500,000 contribution for its conception. This would have been impossible in Arbitration.
By allowing these companies to include Arbitration Clauses in their Employment Letters we have weakened the position and rights of the employee and conversely strengthened the rights and power of the companies. Incoming employees have no leverage. If you want the job, you sign the employment letter. If you don’t, there are 30+ guys behind you willing to sign it. You have no choice. Change begins by identifying these injustices in our system and rising up to speak out against them.
FIND YOUR VOICE
It’s taken me awhile to find my voice. I am done having children. I pray that I can handle whatever is thrown at me. So far, I’m surviving. I’m motivated, strong and passionate. I am a hustler. I show up every day. Something is broken at the corporate level when I can’t succeed. We need to talk about it.
Our genetic design to have children sets us apart. Pregnancy and the decision to become a mother is the cause for rampant discrimination against women in the workplace. Not only are we being sexually harassed, we are being held back because of our gift, our ability and our choice to procreate. Something is wrong when a company punishes women for our biological differences and for doing the singular most valuable thing that propels civilization. These companies should be held accountable.
I believe the way forward is for women like me (and if you are pregnant, or a parent in the workforce trying to support your family, you are like me) need to come forward to talk about the problems and issues we face. If we start the conversation, people will listen and progress can happen. You are a strong belly rising.