Opinion

Is This Any Way to Do Business? A Case of Misogyny and Bullying in the Mortgage Industry

The outing of sexual harassment in the #MeToo era has begun to change attitudes and behavior, yet it is hard to believe the seemingly endless circumstances where it is able to rear its ugly head. A particularly bizarre case has been playing out in the mortgage industry.

On July 2, Anthony Casa, CEO of the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts, sent vile, sexually degrading texts and video clips to Austin Niemiec, an executive vice president with Quicken Loans, as well as colleagues and family members, alleging that Niemiec’s wife, Theresa, had oral sex with another industry leader, Mat Ishbia. This is hardly the competitive practice taught in business schools.

Ishbia heads United Wholesale Mortgage, the nation’s second-largest originator of home mortgages last year. No. 1 Quicken had an initial public offering this month.

After Theresa Niemiec filed a defamation lawsuit on July 10, Casa issued a defensive July 12 Facebook apology, acknowledging his “inappropriate and hurtful” remarks, but blaming Niemiec for starting the fight. His stunningly lame excuse? “I’m a passionate person, I’m vocal, I’m from New Jersey.”

As Naomi Cahn, a law professor at the University of Virginia, said: “Shaming of women is unacceptable, yet far too common as a misogynist strategy.”

While a number of groups, including Caliber Home Loans and Home Point Financial, two of AIME’s biggest funders, as well as Plaza Home Mortgage, denounced Casa’s behavior and suspended their support for the association, few of AIME’s 40,000 other members called for Casa to be fired — and several rallied to his support, with two publicly echoing his misogyny. Mount Diablo Lending CEO Ramon Walker posted a video saying, “That had to be the funniest text train I think I’ve ever seen. . . That is awesome, so awesome.” And PRMG’s chief lending officer, Kevin Peranio, sent a video in which he laughed so hard, he spit out his drink. Peranio later said he was expressing “shock,” yet Casa forwarded the videos to Niemiec and others to crowd-shame Niemiec’s wife.

On July 16, Casa announced that he was taking a leave of absence and issued another apology for his “poor judgment,” indicating that he understood the hurt because he is “the father of two daughters.” AIME’s spokesperson said that he “declined any further comment.”

Ishbia belatedly distanced himself from Casa’s “disturbing comments” and “big mistake,” adding: “You can’t talk about women let alone anyone like that. But I don’t look at AIME as Anthony Casa. I look at it as brokers.” A UWM spokesperson said that UWM and AIME would continue to build their partnership.

However, the flames continued to be fanned, as Steve Dibert, president of MFi-Miami, a mortgage-fraud investigation company, blogged on July 17 and July 21 that Niemiec was a “crybaby” and the suit was “a PR stunt to save [Mrs. Niemiec’s] fledgling hair salon.”

Casa has been a respected, hard-driving advocate for mortgage brokers. The Niemiecs do not personally know Casa, and the allegation of collegiate oral sex with Ishbia makes no sense since Theresa Niemiec was 11 years old at the time the act supposedly took place. So where did this all come from — and why has AIME not called for Casa’s resignation if, as Ishbia said, it about the broader broker community?

This isn’t Casa’s first act targeting Quicken or a Quicken executive: When Quicken started to get into wholesale lending, in 2017, Casa formed Brokers Rallying In opposition to Entire-tail Lending, meaning both retail and wholesale. The acronym, BRAWL, surely was no accident.

The war on retail lenders continued when employees of United Shore, the parent company of Ishbia’s UWM, descended on Quicken’s Detroit headquarters in 2018 to hand out flyers critical of Quicken.

And the close ties between UWM and AIME became clearer the following year when the two groups unveiled software to connect brokers with lenders, loan originators, third-party vendors and consumers. Since it is only available to AIME members, brokers must pay to have access. As Newsmax, a conservative website, asked just weeks before Casa’s first video: Is “AIME just a front group that’s offering competitive advantages to a select few lenders who can afford to pay to play?”

Shortly before sending his videos and texts — and as Quicken’s parent, Rocket Companies, filed for an IPO — Casa “hurled insults” at Niemiec, but “Niemiec didn’t take the bait,” according to Jeffrey Morganroth, Theresa Niemiec’s lawyer.

It’s clear that Casa, whose greatest asset, according to the National Real Estate Post, is “to sow division in the mortgage industry,” is weaponizing misogyny as part of a long-running campaign against Quicken. With the lawsuit from the Niemiecs pending, should Casa face greater consequences than a defamation judgment?

If trade associations like AIME and its members cannot police themselves and get rid of leaders or members who are misogynistic or racist, government should regulate and punish associations for these kinds of actions. It’s not any way to do business.

 

Andrew L. Yarrow, a former New York Times reporter who has worked in government and the nonprofit sector, wrote about problems that men cause and face in his recent book, “Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life.”

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