SAN FRANCISCO — A pair of employment suits filed in the Central District of California on Wednesday blasts Zillow Inc. for allegedly failing to pay overtime, denying meal breaks and retaliating against an employee.
The suits were brought by Mark Geragos, a Los Angeles lawyer famous for representing A-list celebrities including Michael Jackson, Winona Ryder, Nicole Ritchie and Chris Brown. His firm, Geragos & Geragos, has teamed up with Costa Mesa firm Samini Scheinberg.
The first suit is a wage-and-hour class action accusing Zillow of cheating at least 120 full-time, hourly employees in California out of overtime pay. Potential class members are current and former sales consultants, who sold brokers advertising on Zillow's online real estate database.
Ben Meiselas, an associate with Geragos & Geragos, said his firm decided to take the case after hearing stories of the company's poor working conditions.
"Zillow is like a modern-day boiler room," Meiselas said. "These talented young kids right out of college stand in what they call a 'pit' for hours. The Zillow supervisors literally take their chairs away and make them stand up because it's more productive."
Zillow spokeswoman Katie Curnutte declined to comment on the litigation in an email, but said the company takes any allegations about its work environment seriously.
"Our people are our most important asset," she wrote, "and we are committed to providing a safe and productive work environment for everyone."
Plaintiffs lawyers contend Zillow used an illegal system that automatically recorded an 8 a.m. start time and 4 p.m. end time for all employees' shifts, even though managers intimidated employees and demanded they work longer hours. Managers prevented employees from changing their automatically recorded hours, according to the suit, unless it was to account for a sick day or missed work.
And Zillow required employees to clock out for meal and rest breaks, according to the complaint, even when employees were made to work through their breaks.
Plaintiffs lawyers allege Zillow should have known better.
"Zillow is and was advised by skilled lawyers and other professionals, employees, and advisors with knowledge of the requirements of the [Fair Labor Standards Act] and California's wage and hour laws," the lawyers wrote.
A second suit accuses Zillow of retaliating against a whistleblower who alerted company executives that unlicensed real estate agents were consulting with Zillow clients, and that people in the office were using forged contracts. Ashley Boehler, who began work as an inside sales consultant in 2012, emailed upper management in Seattle and informed them of the fraudulent behavior. Management eventually fired certain Zillow employees as a result of Boehler's tip, according to the complaint. Afterward, Boehler experienced retaliation that included being written up and issued poor reviews, being stripped of potentially lucrative sales accounts, and being micromanaged while he worked.
Boehler sued to "stop the abuse of power occurring within Zillow's offices," according to the complaint.
Meiselas said employment regulations can get lost in the excitement of beginning a new enterprise, such as Zillow. When that happens, it's the company's employees who suffer.
"In this new age of social networking, media websites, and other online convenience sites like Zillow and Trulia," Meiselas said, "they need to play by the same rules and the same labor code that other companies abide by."
It's been a bad month for Zillow—the company was accused in late October of copying another real estate network's "Coming Soon" feature. That suit, filed in the Northern District of California, claims Zillow launched the copy-cat feature after ending investment talks with Top Agent Network Inc.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.