A Colchester-based real estate company officially denied all allegations of sexual harassment, invasion of privacy and discrimination made by a former CEO, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court this week.
The lawsuit, filed last month, alleges 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 prohibiting such relationships.
Locke alleges 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 the Nov. 16 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 says.
“KW Vermont’s actions were taken for legitimate business reasons,” the response says, adding Locke was fired for her “lack of trustworthiness and leadership.”
John Franco Jr., Locke’s lawyer, denied these claims and said his client has a different view of the events.
“We’ll deal with that in litigation,” he said.
Locke had operated a real estate business out of her home when KW Vermont offered her a position. She moved to Vermont and accepted this January, 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.
At an annual convention for KW agents from around the country, Locke says Jeremy Asarese, a KW investor and financial administrator, told her to get up on the stage and dance.
Locke says Asarese then took a video of her while dancing and sent it to Adam Hergenrother, CEO and board chairman of Hergenrother Enterprises, which includes KW Vermont. Later that evening, Hergenrother sent Locke a text reading, “Way to dance, girl,” the lawsuit states.
KW Vermont says Asarese neither told Locke to dance, nor took the video of her.
KW Vermont confirmed Hergenrother occasionally communicated with Locke via text message, “the content of which speaks for itself,” the response says.
Based on these experiences, Locke says she lied to Asarese when he asked her about her relationship in March.
Asarese said he had no issue with who she spent time with outside of the office, but that she needed to be honest about engaging in activities that she wouldn’t be doing with friends, the lawsuit states.
KW Vermont says Asarese did ask Locke about the relationship, but only after receiving complaints about Locke’s behavior.
Locke says Asarese confronted her again April 4.
He said he heard from “someone who was watching [her boyfriend] come and go from her apartment building,” the lawsuit’s invasion of privacy claim says, and therefore she could no longer deny the two were “doing ‘inappropriate’ things outside of the office.
Ararese also said Locke had lied about how far “she had gone with [him] sexually,” the lawsuit states.
KW Vermont denies this conversation took place.
The next day, Hergenrother told Locke she was fired, the lawsuit states.
Locke said she moved back to Maine after she couldn’t find another job in Vermont. She’s seeking more than $75,000 in damages for loss of earnings and benefits, out-of-pocket costs and emotional distress.
KW, however, says any damages were caused by Locke’s own conduct. It also argues the district court doesn’t even hold jurisdiction over the matter, as Locke’s lawsuit inflates the potential damages.
Franco wasn’t convinced.
“We’ve easily got that,” he said.
Both parties demand a trial by jury. The court will next consider a proposed discovery schedule.