New York Asks Realty Company to Investigate Sexual Assault Allegations

The New York state comptroller has asked the real estate brokerage eXp Realty to open an independent investigation into sexual harassment and assault allegations exposed in a New York Times article last month.

As New York’s chief fiscal officer, the comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, is the trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund. According to the most recent SEC filing, the pension fund held nearly 27,000 shares of eXp World Holdings, the publicly-held parent company of eXp Realty.

In two separate lawsuits, five current and former agents at eXp Realty said that two top agents at the brokerage drugged and them assaulted them at separate eXp recruiting events. Four of them said they were subsequently sexually assaulted, and The Times investigation uncovered a pattern of eXp leadership silencing those who tried to make reports.

“The New York Times report raised a huge red flag for us as an investor in that company,” Mr. DiNapoli said in an interview. “We found the allegations very concerning and as a shareholder, we are asking questions. We want a public reporting of their efforts to prevent harassment.”

He sent a letter to the eXp chief executive, Glenn Sanford, requesting that the company establish an independent committee to look not only into the allegations, but into gaps in policies that may have set the stage for assaults to occur. Mr. DiNapoli wrote that he was concerned about the “legal and reputational risks” presented by the allegations.

eXp Realty, one of the fastest-growing brokerages in the world, did not immediately respond to a request from The Times for comment.

In the past two years, Mr. DiNapoli has filed similar letters with Tesla, Starbucks and the video game company Activision Blizzard, after allegations of sexual harassment at those companies. He described the move as a first step and said that he would consider legal action should eXp fail to respond.

In 2018, Mr. DiNapoli led a lawsuit against Steve Wynn and the officers and directors of Wynn Resorts following reports of abuse and sexual misconduct. That suit was settled for $90 million in 2019.

eXp was founded by Mr. Sanford in 2009 and has grown into a $2 billion company. It has about 90,000 agents who participate in a unique payment structure where agents recruit other agents and then take a cut of their earnings. Those who recruit the most are revered, and the company’s hierarchy is a chain of influence where money is constantly funneled up.

The two men accused of drugging and assault, Michael Bjorkman and David Golden, were two of eXp’s most successful recruiters and highest earners. They both deny the allegations, and have left eXp.

But allegations of sexual assault, often coupled with reports of the use of GHB — the “date rape drug” that causes loss of consciousness and memory — persist at the brokerage. As recently as May, another female broker for the company said she blacked out while attending an eXp conference in Orlando, and when she regained consciousness, she was in a strange hotel bed and a real estate photographer she had met that evening was on top of her, penetrating her with her hands around her neck.

A representative for eXp told The Times in December that the company has zero tolerance for abuse and noted that both Mr. Golden and Mr. Bjorkman were independent contractors rather than employees. The company had responded to the allegations as soon as they were brought to their attention, the representative has said.

The women in the lawsuits said that they had made multiple reports to eXp leaders, including Mr. Sanford, and were ignored for months or even years. Mr. DiNapoli noted this in his letter to Mr. Sanford.

“The plaintiffs claimed that eXp Realty was aware of the alleged behavior of the involved male agents, contradicting public statements made by the company,” he wrote.

The attorneys representing the five women welcomed Mr. DiNapoli’s call for inquiry.

“We are heartened that the New York State comptroller has taken the reports of assault at eXp seriously. We agree that an investigation is warranted and that is exactly why we brought the allegations forward. We want change,” said Andrea S. Hirsch, partner at Cohen Hirsch, the firm representing the women.

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