Zillow Accused of ‘Sexual Torture’ by Ex-Consultant

Zillow Inc. was accused of “sexual torture” by one of its former sales consultants in a harassment lawsuit that may add to scrutiny of how women are treated in the technology industry.

Zillow, the biggest U.S. website for real-estate agents and prospective home buyers, suffers from a “pervasive culture of degrading women,” according to the complaint in federal court in Santa Ana, California. Rachel Kremer, who was hired by Zillow in 2012 as a sales consultant, said in her complaint that male supervisors ranked her according to her breast size, sent pictures of their penises to her and required “sexual gratification” to keep her job.

Kremer “brings this action based on the sexual torture she endured, and for the other women who have been silenced at Zillow, and remain exposed to horrific and unthinkable acts,” according to the complaint.

Silicon Valley’s treatment of women has been the focus of several lawsuits. In 2012, a female partner sued Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of Silicon Valley’s top venture capital firms, claiming she was discriminated against because of her gender. A female executive at Tinder Inc., the matchmaking application, sued this year, alleging harassment and discrimination after being stripped of her co-founder title. That led parent company IAC/InteractiveCorp to search for a new chief executive officer for Tinder.

Legal Fallout

Taken together, the cases represent the legal fallout of a culture that has come into the spotlight this year as some companies have disclosed the gender breakdown of their employees, who tend to be less than 30 percent female. The companies, including Apple Inc., Google Inc. and Facebook Inc., have agreed to improve recruiting efforts to diversify their workforces.

Zillow immediately investigated Kremer’s claims when they arose and fired a sales employee in its Irvine office, said Dawn Lyon, a spokeswoman for the Seattle-based company, in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

Kremer’s allegations “do not reflect Zillow’s culture or workplace and are completely inconsistent with our values,” Lyon said in the statement. “We don’t tolerate harassment of any kind.”

The Dec. 1 lawsuit by Kremer, who seeks unspecified damages, is based on sexual harassment and wrongful termination claims, among other allegations.

The case is Kremer v. Zillow, 14-cv-01889, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (Santa Ana).

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