Another former employee of the Clover Group has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the real estate firm and its president, Michael Joseph, of illegal and racially discriminatory practices.
Shane Forrest of Greensboro, North Carolina, says the Williamsville-based company and its executives “intentionally engaged in illegal race-based housing discrimination by refusing to develop housing in or near Black neighborhoods.”
In doing so, Forrest claims, the company violated federal law, as well as the laws of North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, where Forrest scouted potential sites for Clover’s market-rate senior housing complexes.
Clover owns or operates dozens of such developments in a half dozen other states, including Western New York.
Forrest claims Clover fired him after 18 months on the job because “he refused to use race as a site selection factor” in his work.
Clover and Joseph, through a public relations company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Forrest’s allegations mirror those of former Clover employee Peter Rizzo, who filed a federal lawsuit against the company in May. Both lawsuits describe Clover executives using the terms “Canadians” and “the Canadian factor” as a code for discussing the number of Black people living in proximity to a proposed development site.
If the surrounding population was more that 20 percent Black, Rizzo claimed in his lawsuit, that was sufficient cause for Clover to reject the site.
Rizzo surreptitiously recorded Clover executives using the coded language, acknowledging the meaning of the code, and explaining that building in communities the executives considered “heavily Black” was “tough” because there might be an “issue with residents paying their rent.”
Through its public relations firm, Clover described Rizzo as “an angry and disgruntled former employee” and his allegations as “meritless, baseless, and misleading.”
Forrest, 56, has been working in real estate for 28 years. He worked for Clover from September 2021 to December 2022. He cites Rizzo’s recordings of Clover executives as evidence of his claims. Those recordings were first published by Investigative Post and broadcast by our partners at WGRZ.
Forrest was hired by Clover in September 2021 by David Archibald, a Clover executive who died last June. After Archibald’s death, Forrest reported to Robert Jack, a Clover executive whom Rizzo recorded — and who is named in both Forrest’s and Rizzo’s lawsuits.
In his lawsuit, Forrest said he learned that Clover used “a set of written and unwritten site selection criteria.”
The written criteria included the size of the building lots, as well as certain “lawful and appropriate” demographic assessments of the surrounding community: the number of people 65 years or older, median income and median home value.
The unwritten criteria — which Forrest describes as “expressly illegal … unethical and immoral” — had to do with the number of Black people living within three and five miles of a proposed site.
Forrest said he was never given “a specific threshold” for what constituted too many Black people, “but was instead instructed to avoid Black areas altogether.”
Forrest said he’d been working two or three months for Clover before Archibald, the man who hired him, explained the company’s “Canadian factor” policy to him. Archibald told Forrest he disagreed with Clover’s policy, instructed Forrest to ignore it, and pledged to support Forrest if Clover’s leadership rejected sites he recommended “on the basis of the nearby Black population.”
But Archibald’s support didn’t prevent Clover from rejecting Forrest’s proposed sites when Joseph’s longtime second-in-command, Richard Greenspan, decided the “Canadian factor” ran afoul of the company’s “unwritten” policy.
After Archibald died last June, Forrest claims, his new supervisor tried to stop short his proposals to develop in communities the company’s leadership would consider too Black:
54. In regularly scheduled meetings between Plaintiff and Defendant Jack, Defendant Jack would often make statements such as, “I can’t present this site to [Greenspan] — there are too many Canadians.”
Jack expressed similar reservations in recordings made by Rizzo of a discussion about a site proposal near East St. Louis, a city whose population is more than 96 percent Black:
Forrest claims “Jack routinely expressed to Plaintiff his frustration” that Forrest continued to recommend sites “in or near Black neighborhoods.”
Jack fired Forrest over the phone on Dec. 5, 2022, according to the lawsuit. Forrest received no severance pay. He is seeking $5 million for lost pay and benefits, as well as pain and suffering.
Forrest’s intention to sue Clover was first reported by the Buffalo News and WIVB. The lawsuit was filed on June 16.
Michael Joseph, Clover’s president, has not commented publicly on the allegations made against him, his companies, and his top executives — including his daughter, Allison Joseph Pendleton, who is a defendant in both Forrest’s and Rizzo’s lawsuits.
Joseph has been a prominent donor to elected officials, mostly Democrats, and has served on the boards of numerous prominent organizations.
Rizzo’s lawsuit prompted condemnation of Joseph and his company. Joseph subsequently resigned as board chair for the state-funded Roswell Park Cancer Institute, which has faced numerous complaints of race and gender discrimination during his tenure there.
He continues to serve on the board of the AKG Gallery, and was co-chair of the gala celebrating the opening of the gallery’s new building last week.