KW Vermont settles lawsuit with ex-CEO

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A Colchester-based real estate company has agreed to a settlement with its former CEO who claimed sexual harassment and invasion of privacy in a lawsuit filed last October, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court this week.

The lawsuit alleged Hergenrother Green Mountain Properties, the parent company of Keller Williams Vermont, fired 27-year-old Chelsea Locke for lying about her relationship with an affiliated independent contractor despite no policy against it.

Locke’s attorney, John Franco Jr., said he couldn’t comment on the settlement’s specifics beyond confirming the matter is resolved.

“Chelsea actually has her own Keller Williams affiliate in Maine, and we wish Keller Williams Vermont the best of success,” Franco said last Wednesday afternoon.

Both parties met with a neutral evaluator on January 5. The meeting began at 9 a.m. and finished at 5 p.m., court documents show.

Evaluations aren’t usually conducted until after the discovery process, Franco said, but both parties agreed to it in an attempt to resolve the matter early.

“In this case, we agreed to do the mediation in an attempt to resolve it before we spent the money,” Franco said.

KW Vermont’s lawyer, Heather Hammond, also declined to share details of the settlement but said the resolution was “satisfactory to both sides.”

“We’re just ready to get back to business,” she said.

Locke previously operated a real estate business out of her home when KW Vermont offered her a position. She moved to Vermont and accepted in January 2016, the lawsuit states.

During her three months with KW Vermont, Locke said the company repeatedly inquired about her private life and urged she dress more provocatively. In its answer, KW Vermont denied this and Locke’s claim that she was exposed to a sexually hostile work environment.

Locke alleged KW Vermont invaded her privacy by asking about the relationship and treated her differently than past employees based on her age and gender.

Yet in a November filing, KW Vermont said Locke tried to promote the contractor to a leadership position over more qualified candidates. She then tried to retaliate against other agents who she believed informed KW Vermont of her actions, the company’s response said.

“KW Vermont’s actions were taken for legitimate business reasons,” the response says, adding Locke was fired for her “lack of trustworthiness and leadership.”

At the time, Franco denied these claims and said his client held different views of the events.

Locke said she moved back to Maine after she couldn’t find another job in Vermont. She’s sought more than $75,000 in damages for loss of earnings and benefits, out-of-pocket costs and emotional distress. KW, however, said any damages were caused by Locke’s own conduct.