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Local realtor association sues member for internet comments

Chicago Association of Realtors sues one of its own members for over $50,000, alleging her comments online constitute defamation.

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Realtor association suing member for $50,000

The Chicago Association of Realtors (CAR) today sent out an email news release commenting on their newly filed defamation suit against Andrea Geller in the Cook County Circuit Court. The $50K+ lawsuit is based on comments posted on a Chicago Agent Magazine article regarding the recent impeachment of the Association’s President.

Geller is a former Board Member and currently volunteers on the CAR Finance Committee, and has not yet been served with the lawsuit, but upon advice of her lawyer cannot publicly comment on the active litigation.

Reactions online have been mixed, with support for both sides pouring in, but with the court documents not yet available, it is difficult to discern all of the facts, but the idea of any Association suing a member is disturbing some, while others point out that it is important for Associations to stand up to some of the abuses they endure on social networks.

CAR reacts “with a heavy heart”

REALTOR® Zeke Morris, president of C.A.R. and Operating Principal and Managing Broker, Keller Williams Realty writes in an email statement, “It is with a heavy heart that the C.A.R. Board of Directors and I have authorized this action against one of our own members — but that member left us with no choice. The ongoing false statements about fictitious financial issues are intolerable and inexcusable, particularly in light of the fact that the Association urged Ms. Geller over the course of several weeks to identify specific concerns so they could be investigated.”

Morris continued, “Rather than act responsibly, she continued with the defamatory posts, through and including this past weekend. We were forced to take action to protect the Association’s well-earned respect and reputation.”

“With freedom of speech comes responsibility,” Morris noted, “and it is wrong to use the ease of the Internet to cast repeated, unsupported and false aspersions on our staff, volunteers and on our Association. The Board has great confidence in its CEO, its Chief Operations and Financial Officer, and the rest of its financial staff, along with its Finance Committee.”

Morris said, “The Association’s budgeting process is thorough, open, and comprehensive, with members involved in myriad committees to shape the offerings of the Association – from education to events, programs and beyond. The Association’s finances are annually audited by independent certified public accountants. We have been, and will continue to be, good and responsible stewards of our members’ dues.”

Association protecting itself or turning against a member?

“That stewardship requires C.A.R. to protect the Association and its staff and members from the damage that can come from defamation,” writes Joe Zekas of YoChicago.com. “CAR’s approach to Ms Geller doesn’t strike me as the most professional way to deal with a dissident member. Following soon after CAR’s removal of its president, who had also questioned CAR’s finances, this heavy-handed tactic could easily leave the public wondering.”

Austin broker, Eric Bramlett, who is no stranger to Board controversy himself added that, “It would be nice to know exactly which of Andrea’s statements CAR finds defamatory. Is it her request for transparency in CAR’s accounting? Her suggestion that high level CAR employees undergo background checks prior to employment? Her suggestion that CAR undergo a forensic audit? Though I’m not an attorney, these hardly seem actionable. I look forward to an explanation from CAR as to why they’re suing one of their own.”

“Perhaps the entire system really does need to be evaluated by a third party”

A common sentiment online was that regardless of this lawsuit or the outcome, the role of the Association is unclear, with some standing strongly against a suit of this nature, while others note that it is easy to conceive that if any group feels defamed, it should stand up.

Amanda Lopez, Founder of Style House Realty in Baltimore opines, “Someone isn’t telling the truth and it will be a battle of the dollar as to who can last the longest to find out the real truth. Something like this wouldn’t go to trial for years and unless [Coldwell Banker] is going to shell out for their agent, who has donated her own time to serve on a committee, chances are that CAR will win merely for the resources they seem to have to stick it out.”

Lopez adds, “It is a shame when people who work for free to protect a trade associations reputation they believe so strongly in, only to be tossed aside when they open their mouths. There seems to be a lot of power struggle between the paid staff on every local board and the revolving door of members volunteering their time to be the “idea creators.” Perhaps the entire system really does need to be evaluated by a third party to deem it as a necessary and well run entity.”

“CAR may not like people talking about this online, but slapping a lawsuit on someone that has already gotten social media legs, is not the way to handle PR in 2012,” Lopez concludes.

What message does this lawsuit send?

Some are calling it intimidation, others are calling it a necessary protection, but Marc Davison, Founding Partner at 1000watt Consulting said, “I cannot think of a single crime worth the punishment of a public lawsuit issued by an association toward its member. What kind of message does that send the public about our industry when it goes after one of its own in public view?”

Davison added, “Granted, I do not have the facts but I cannot imagine what a Realtor could possibly do to incur this public intimidation and humiliation. I know Andrea. She has always been upfront, articulate and a champion for change in real estate. I respect that and I respect her. CAR should back down and deal with whatever this is in private. Like adults.”

Calls for a new alternative to the Association

As is a common response when members disagree with an Association’s behavior, individuals call for an alternative association, as “Joe,” an anonymous commenter on the Chicago Agent Mag story writes, “What exactly is the qualifications for being the CEO of an association. what experience could Ginger Downs possibly have that would be worth $327,000 per year. What is she doing that a $100,000 salary couldnt accomplish.”

Joe continues, “This whole thing is absolutely ridiculous the entire leadership needs to go and now. All the realtors need to get a spine and start a petition to remove the leadership. Otherwise the best way to defeat them is to simply start a new association.”

This will not likely be the lone voice with this suggestion, but as in many instances in the past, this will not be the likely outcome related to this lawsuit.

Show me the money: CAR’s finances

Although an alternative Association will not likely emerge as a result, a common theme has emerged regarding CAR’s books, and the finances of other Associations are likely to go under the microscope.

Jeff Brown, Founder of Brown & Brown Investment Properties tells AGBeat, “Regardless of the emotions on both sides, the question beggin’ to be asked is: Why aren’t all the books of CAR, detailing the journey of every single dime, made public and accounted for? That one act would, if perceived as credible by members and the public, paint the most accurate financial picture possible. Why hasn’t this been done? Why all the tap dancing? Why the bullying?”

Brown adds, “I’ve seen this at every level of the Realtor experience since I was first licensed so long ago. CAR has forced everyone to posture and theorize due to the accounting remaining behind their curtain. So far, this drama has been relegated to ‘he says, she says’, which rarely gets to the truth of reality.”

“As far as the lawsuit goes,” Brown notes, “I suspect there can be only a couple outcomes. If CAR has nothing to fear, their books will easily and quickly demonstrate their innocence of any wrong doing, or even the appearance of it. On the other hand, if a judge forces CAR to turn over a truly complete record of their books, a highly experienced forensic accountant might uncover some unflattering numbers. If the latter is the case, and nobody knows that except the board members, it says something about their judgment that they’d invite such a detailed examination of their behavior.”

Brown concludes, “I seriously doubt this gets to trial. One way or another, history tells me there won’t be a truly unbiased accounting. Everyone will go their separate ways, and none of us will ever know what really happened — or never happened. In other words, when the smoke clears, we’ll probably know about as much as we do now.”

Adding fuel to the fire… “bat-shit crazy”

In an ironic twist, even commenters on the Chicago Agent Magazine website are now calling each others’ comments defamatory. John Q Reason comments, “Perhaps the association is taking legal action because there is factual evidence that Andrea Geller (who most of the industry knows is bat-shit crazy) is making blatantly false statements. Just a theory, but then I am no detective.”

John Q Commercial comments on the same blog, “I know i’m not an attorney, but calling someone ‘bat shit crazy’ sounds like defamation to me. Just a theory.”

“Why would they put someone who is bat shit crazy in charge of the money?”

An industry leader that chose to remain anonymous told AG, “My opinion is this: I don’t know her, she may be bat shit crazy in fact, however, the burden of proof is in fact on the board to prove that she knowingly made false statements. So they may be false but they also have to prove that she knew them to be false and repeatedly made them after a cease and deists letter was received.”

“I also don’t know all the facts first hand,” our source notes, “but seems like to me if they are suing her for money, they may just be proving her point about being a financial train wreck and this may be just an attempt at a money grab. Either way, she doesn’t look bat shit crazy, and if she was bat shit crazy, why would they put someone who is bat shit crazy in charge of the money? That too me seems like proof enough that the board may not make the best decisions.”

“Even if you win, you lose”

Frank Llosa, Esq., Broker of Frankly Real Estate, is well known for his no-holds-barred approach to his commentary on the real estate industry. Llosa tells AG, “I am very interested in hearing the outcome, because I tend to write controversial blogs and comments and I wouldn’t want to curb online discussions. I hope she has the ability to defend herself. The problem with our system is that even if you win, you lose because of the costs and lost productivity.”

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. davetipton

    September 6, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Well, I’am safe from any law suits from my association, the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors (GTAR).  I don’t think they even know what the internet is. Totally behind the curve,  
    technologically speaking.
     

    • Roland Estrada

      September 7, 2012 at 7:00 pm

       @davetipton It’s not just your association in Tampa. Our MLS and associations in Orange County CA know there is an internet. They just don’t believe everyone should be able to access it – i.e. cross-browser compatibility, iPads, iPhones etc. We’ve been waiting years and are still waiting. Sometime this year we’re told, which is what we heard last year.  

  2. Roland Estrada

    September 7, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Is it just  me, or does nobody comment on AG any longer. 

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Court green lights demoting an employee for physical disabilities

(BUSINESS NEWS) Court rules the Americans with Disability Act doesn’t fully cover employees – but is the law actually open to some interpretation?

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Wrongful termination is a hot topic these days, especially in relation to employees with disabilities. It’s commonly thought that if you have a disability, you’re safe and that no one can fire you for simply being disabled. But did you know that’s actually a myth?

When ex-Sheriffs Deputy Brigid Ford injured herself on the job, she was faced with the hard truth about the law surrounding disabilities.

Ford, who worked 12 years as a Sheriff’s Deputy, was injured when a car ran a red light and ran into her patrol car, smashing her hand. This resulted in constant pain and an inability to use her right hand. She spent the next few months working in alternative, lighter-duty areas of the department. But even after a year, she was unable to return to her initial post.

Because of this, the Sheriff’s department offered her 3 options:

1. She could move to a civilian job, with a cut in pay. This would include any associated accommodations she may need.

2. She could resign.

3. If she didn’t choose either of the above, they claimed she could be terminated.

Ford ended up choosing a demotion, and then elected to sue the department for violating the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). At the end of these proceedings, the court found that the demotion was reasonable.

But is this really the standard application for the law?

Although there are many myths associated with the ADA, the law clearly states that in order to provide reasonable accommodation for an employee, you must go through an “interactive process”, which means there must be some back and forth to accommodate the employee.

In Ford’s case, she was unable to continue her initial job as she was not provided with all the accommodations she requested and therefore, only had enough accommodations to continue with a civilian job.

What’s strange about this situation is that she was provided with a few in-depth provisions that would meet her needs, such as training for her supervisors, extra breaks when needed, so she could deal with her pain, and a more ergonomic work station. However, when she requested a voice-activated software for her computer, which would limit her need to use her right hand, she was denied.

The court stated that if there had been a lateral position available, with no decrease in pay, and Ford was qualified for the job, the ADA would have protected Ford a bit better, favoring this option over demotion.

Nevertheless, with the rise of documented disabilities in America, the lines the ADA draws for employees and employers-alike continue to seem blurred. Just like many other laws, the act seems to be open to some interpretation, but at the end of the day, when something like this is brought to the court system, American citizens are truly at the mercy of our court’s Judges and how they translate the laws.

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Amazon creates new tool for doctors, but does it actually help patients?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Amazon offers tool for doctors to add recorded conversations to your medical file, are they overstepping their bounds as an online seller?

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On December 2, 2019, Amazon announced the release of its new service for Amazon Transcribe, a medical speech support service. This machine learning service will be able to take out the “middleman” and transcribe medical jargon from physicians in real time to patient charts, claims Amazon.

The release of Amazon Transcribe Medical adds to the company’s muscle bulking stage with its other investments as it prepares to get further into the medical arena. Recently released services like Alexa’s medication management (which allows people to request prescription refills & medication reminders through Alexa) and Amazon Care (Amazon’s own healthcare service for employees) are a few points adding to Amazon’s overall medical category weight. And let’s not forget how Amazon is also testing out the use of Alexa within a hospital context too.

However with further developments with technology into the medical field, it also brings more questions about how harmful this type of technology can be or how helpful it is overall.

Privacy
All throughout the world there are more and more issues of security as newer and advanced technologies are peaking. It is almost as if people aren’t thinking enough of how information can be used negatively, did Amazon think about that? For example, say some extremists dislike a women getting an abortion through legal means and then leek her private information to the world or take their own actions to “solve” it.

What Happens Afterward
We all know that companies like Facebook or Google stores and records our information from every click and video watched, but what will happen once Amazon starts this with medical information? How will Amazon plan on acting with this stored information that physicians will be creating on our behalf? Amazon has yet to say how they plan on deleting this transcribed information afterwards or how they will use this information in the future.

More People Cared For
Who am I to say what will not be beneficial for any doctor that might spend hours trying to fill out all of their charts accurately after their excruciating shift? Maybe this is the type of change that is needed to turn the more time consuming tasks that require the most accuracy for consistent patient care. Thus, leading to doctors being able to manage more people coming through the door, and an overall healthier world.

Medical Breakthroughs
If given consent, maybe having this data transcribed within one place can create better medical breakthroughs for the future. It could allow for easier transfer of data and for easier mapping of different patterns of symptoms that would take long to diagnose. Maybe this could be the 1st step into revolutionizing the procedures of the healthcare industry with more advancements to come for the betterment of the world. Who knows?

It is not hard to see the good intentions that Amazon has and how they are trying to make the world easier to live in. It is honorable, and what this writer is asking more business do. But as the famous quote says “ the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

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TrueDialog left millions of your texts unsecured, when will they learn?

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Another day, another data breach. Tens of millions of people were potentially exposed because messages and personal information stored in a database of Austin-based company, TrueDialog, were left unprotected. According to researchers the database was left on the internet without a password and none of the data was encrypted.

Noam Rotem and Ran Locar, a research team at vpnMentor, discovered the breach on Nov. 19, 2019.

“This was a huge discovery, with a massive amount of private data exposed, including tens of millions of SMS text messages,” the research team said on the vpnMentor website. “Aside from private text messages, our team discovered millions of account usernames and passwords, PII data of TrueDialog users and their customers, and much more.”

TrueDialog says it is the leading SMS provider for mass text messaging, SMS marketing and personalized two-way SMS texting, according to its website. The company has been in business 10 years and provides its clients, mostly businesses and higher education organizations, with the ability to send bulk emails to clients and students.

Among the information left unprotected were messages about university finance applications, job alerts, marketing messages from businesses with discount codes, usernames and passwords, TechCrunch reported after examining a portion of the data.

The database was taken offline after TrueDialog was contacted regarding the exposure. Chief Executive John Wright didn’t return TechCrunch’s requests for comment. He did not acknowledge the security lapse to TechCrunch. The researchers at vpnMentor offered assistance to help with the security breach, but TrueDialog officials did not respond.

TrueDialog works with over 990 cell phone operators and reaches more than 5 billion subscribers around the world.

Along with its clients and their customers being left exposed, TrueDialog was also left exposed. Rotem and Locar said the breach has potentially exposed tens of millions of people in multiple ways.

Among the information the pair found were phone numbers (recipients and users), email addresses, message content, full names, and TrueDialog account information.

“It’s rare for one database to contain such a huge volume of information that’s also incredibly varied,” they said.

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