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Inside the allegations against Keller Williams, John Davis

Inga Dow claims two decades of sexual misconduct and retaliation by KW's ex-CEO. KW has said Dow lacks a case.

A civil court complaint alleges 20 years of highly disturbing sexual misconduct by former Keller Williams CEO John Davis, and that company higher ups including Gary Keller did nothing to stop Davis’s behavior.

In fact, the allegations from Inga Dow, a Keller Williams franchisee owner, claim that the very franchise network Gary Keller set up is partly to blame for her prolonged abuse.

Keller Williams has a “complex and incestuous structure of business and employment relationships,” write Dow’s lawyers in an amended complaint filed in Texas federal court last week.

Keller Williams, Davis, and Gary Keller have yet to either deny or admit to sexual harassment and assault, or complicity with that behavior. They have said that Dow’s lawsuit carries no legal weight because she is an independent contractor and is too late in filing the case.

The explosive and complicated lawsuit before Dallas-based federal judge Mark Pittman was first reported on by Inman News.

The allegations raise the question of what legal or ethical responsibility Keller Williams and other real estate brokerages have to protect independent contractor real estate agents and franchisee owners from workplace misconduct.

Messages left with lawyers for Davis – who resigned as Keller Williams CEO in 2019 – were routed to Paul Omodt, of Omodt & Associates Critical Communications, a spokesperson for Davis, who provided a statement:

“All claims in this lawsuit have absolutely no merit and we look forward to the next steps in the legal process. Mr. Davis and all parties seek dismissal of all claims on the pleadings. If any claims survive, Mr. Davis looks forward to the ability to present this to a full and public hearing of all the facts involved.”

Keller Williams responded to questions with a statement from Darryl Frost, a company spokesperson:

“Keller Williams and its independently owned franchisees are committed to providing a work environment that is free from discrimination and take such allegations very seriously. In keeping with this commitment, Keller Williams and its franchisees prohibit harassment in all forms.”

A ‘top-down, homogenized’ approach

The 57-page complaint by Dow, who could not be reached for comment Monday, is roughly divided into two different subject areas: graphic depictions of sexually inappropriate comment and behavior allegedly made by Davis, and one perspective into Keller William’s intricate franchising and leadership structure.

Through “complex, intertwined employment and ownership relationships,” Keller Williams “maintains a significant, top-down, homogenized approach on how real estate is sold under the ‘Keller Williams’ brand,” the complaint reads.

According to the complaint, Dow became a real estate agent at Keller Williams in 1992 and became a team leader in a Keller Williams’ market center, which is similar to a franchisee, led by Gary Keller in 1996. As her professional career blossomed, the complaint reads, Dow quickly faced a workplace culture where men commonly requested to “sleep with” and “get in the hot tub with her.”

In 1998, Dow alleged, Davis first had sex with Dow against her objections.

Dow claims that she eventually informed Mary Tennant, the aunt of Davis and also operating principal of Keller William’s Austin market center at that time. Tennant allegedly replied by calling Dow a liar and hanging up the phone on her.

Per the lawsuit, Davis’s harassment of Dow resumed in earnest in 2002 when Dow was named operating principal of the Fort Worth market center, the Keller Williams’ affiliate that Dow was then a team leader at.

In 2004, after allegedly enduring years of harassment, Dow informed David Osborn, another operating principal of a market center. Osborn, a codefendant in the lawsuit, allegedly replied that Dow do “whatever it takes to get along” with Davis.

Further, Dow claimed, Davis used his power to later retaliate against Dow by preventing from starting a new market center in Johnson County, Texas. Dow then spent a decade more being periodically intimated, harassed and bullied by Davis, who in 2016 ascended to CEO of Keller Williams, she claimed.

By 2017, Dow alleged that she was seeking to renew her license as owner of a Keller Williams’ Fort Worth market center, but that Davis denied her application in a retaliatory move. That same year, Dow alleged, she developed Bell’s Palsy, a stress-induced disorder that caused a disability.

Dow claims that she then applied to join a “Legacy Program” Gary Keller started that would allow her to maintain a market center ownership stake but turn over operating principal duties to someone else. However, Keller Williams’ brass not only denied this application, Dow said, but began encouraging agent poaching from this market center.

“To date,” the complaint reads, “Plaintiff continues to be retaliated against, harassed, and treated with hostility by Defendants through the continual denials of her renewal and participation in the Legacy Program, as well as the unrelenting interference with her businesses, amongst other things.”

‘Dow fails to state a claim’

In a civil lawsuit, a motion to dismiss argues that the original complaint is not making a valid legal argument. Some motions to dismiss also rally to the reputation of the defendant and question the facts alleged. Others just make a legal defense.

The motion to dismiss filed previous to Dow’s first amended complaint last week – and, for now, technically rendered moot by Dow amending her complaint – just make a legal defense.

Motions by Keller Williams the company, Gary Keller, Johnathan Davis, and David Osborn make two such defenses: The allegations happened too long ago and so fall outside the statute of limitations for bringing a case. And, as an independent contractor, Dow cannot allege workplace harassment or a hostile work environment.

“Dow fails to state a claim for relief because her claims are time barred and because defendants did not employ Dow,” reads a motion to dismiss jointly filed by Gary Keller, the individual, and Keller Williams, the company. “She is and was at all times a business owner/independent contractor/franchisee.”

A motion to dismiss by Davis is four pages long and makes similar arguments.

Additionally, the defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration, which would move the case away from a public court and toward a privately compensated arbitrator. “The lawsuit arises from plaintiff Inga Dow’s ownership of three Keller Williams real estate brokerages,” the motion states. “Each of Dow’s license agreements contain an arbitration clause.”