Former G-Rate employees allege toxic work environment: Chicago Tribune

Dozens of former employees at Guaranteed Rate say the mortgage lender has fostered a toxic work environment — including verbal abuse, misogyny and bullying — amid the laser focus of its founder and CEO, Victor Ciardelli, on making money and growing the business, according to a report published Saturday by the Chicago Tribune.

According to the report, the accusations included Ciardelli, who is described as a “boss who was quick to berate, swear at and demean employees,” mainly when rising interest rates started to erode the firm’s gains. The sources said the attacks happened in person or during company calls, sometimes in front of hundreds of people.

The company and Ciardelli deny the allegations. They added that G-Rate has a positive workplace environment in which women, in particular, are supported. They provided more than 80 testimonials from current and former employees and shared an internally conducted worker satisfaction survey showing an average rating of 8.49 out of 10 across 75% of the total workforce.

The Tribune report was based on interviews with 80 former employees, internal company emails and exit interviews, court records and text messages. The company did not immediately respond to HousingWire’s request for comment.

According to Inside Mortgage Finance (IMF) estimates, Chicago-based Guarantee Rate was the ninth-largest mortgage lender in the country in the first quarter of 2024. The lender originated $7 billion in loans from January to March, which held steady compared to the same quarter in 2023.

The mortgage lender, which grew to 9,708 employees at its peak in 2021, shrank to 3,871 workers as of April due to a declining origination market. Among all of its companies, excluding contractors, the total declined from 14,264 in 2021 to 5,756 as of May.

In the Tribune investigation, former female employees accused the company of maintaining a “sexualized atmosphere” and a “boys club” culture. One of the cases mentioned is a lawsuit filed by former loan officer Megan McDermott, which HousingWire reported on in April. 

McDermott sued the lender and two managers for allegedly discriminating against her based on gender, for failing to compensate her equally to male coworkers with similar performances, and for subjecting her to sexual harassment.

In response, the lender said it did not find evidence to support these allegations after a comprehensive internal investigation and an “outside law firm” had reviewed its 2023 pay data and found it compliant with state equal-pay laws. The ongoing case was filed in New Jersey.

Work environment 

The former employees interviewed by the Tribune said they didn’t think their complaints to human resources were taken seriously. Some said they decided not to bring their complaints to HR out of fear of retaliation, or because they thought Ciardelli and other executives interfered with HR, a charge that G-Rate denied.

Some sources said they were afraid of legal pushback. G-Rate has filed lawsuits against former employees, accusing them of breaching contracts by failing to pay back advanced signing bonuses and commissions after they left the company. 

The Tribune investigation shows that the company’s employees are asked to sign mandatory arbitration agreements when hired. Sexual harassment claims and claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and similar state agencies are not subject to arbitration.

Over the past decade, G-Rate “has settled six claims involving allegations of a hostile work environment, including arbitration cases as well as claims filed with the EEOC and state and local agencies,” it said. Male employees brought the majority of these claims and one was resolved in Guaranteed Rate’s favor, the company said.

Due to the company’s work environment, some former employees were driven to seek mental health assistance, with one contacting a suicide hotline last year, the Tribune investigation showed.

“We hold ourselves and our team members to an incredibly high standard and are not apologetic about that,” Ciardelli wrote in a response to the Tribune.

“We also recognize … that to achieve great success, one must embrace a full ownership for their actions, both successful and otherwise to achieve growth and most important optimally serve our customers. We promote a transparent culture that supports all our team members toward that goal and welcome constructive criticism. As a result, we are not for everyone.”

Ciardelli added that the company “has not, does not, and would not objectify women or put them in uncomfortable personal or professional situations.”

G-Rate also described the company as a positive workplace where abuse and harassment are not tolerated and where complaints to human resources are taken seriously.

“We are not perfect by any means, but we do work hard to listen to our employees and make sure they feel supported,” a company spokesperson wrote in an email to the Tribune in April. “Most of all, we have no tolerance for any form of bullying, harassment or mistreatment. It is not who we are or who we want to be.”