Former Guaranteed Rate employees allege toxic workplace


Victor Ciardelli beamed as his mortgage company, Chicago-based Guaranteed Rate, launched a “financial wellness” and “personal well-being” app last fall before a live audience in Times Square with wellness celebrity Deepak Chopra.

“Something we are passionate about at Guaranteed Rate is caring about people and their overall well-being,” Ciardelli said in a video of the event posted online. “We wanted to make sure that we did something to help people in their general stress and alleviate pain.”

But in the days following the launch of the app, which offers home loan applications and other financial services alongside yoga classes and nutrition advice, Ciardelli wasn’t happy. Yelling at executive leadership on company calls, he referred to his employees as “failures,” complained that the team did not show him from a particular camera angle and said “Marketing is a f−−−ing disaster,” according to two executives who were on the calls.

Despite Ciardelli’s public remarks on the importance of personal well-being, many former employees told the Tribune they experienced or witnessed persistent verbal abuse and a misogynistic environment while working at Guaranteed Rate. As part of a Tribune investigation, reporters interviewed nearly 80 former employees and reviewed court records, internal company emails, written exit interviews and text messages.

Many of the former staff members who spoke with the Tribune described Ciardelli, the company’s president, CEO and founder, as a boss who was quick to berate, swear at and demean employees.

“Every person that works directly under Mr. Ciardelli is terrified of his potential anger outbursts,” one former assistant wrote to human resources after she was let go from the company a couple of years ago, according to an email reviewed by the Tribune.

Some former employees who spoke with the Tribune said they were driven to seek mental health care because of the work environment at the company; one former worker said she contacted a suicide hotline last year.

Multiple women who used to work at Guaranteed Rate, meanwhile, described working in a sexualized atmosphere where some male loan officers and managers made sexually explicit remarks to female employees, hit on them in the office or at work events, and commented inappropriately on their appearance — even, in one case, encouraging a woman to use her looks to help close a loan.

In February, a woman who used to work as a loan officer at Guaranteed Rate filed a lawsuit against two high-producing loan officers at the company, alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Her complaint alleges one of the male loan officers sexually harassed her at a corporate event, that the other loan officer pressured her not to report the incident to human resources, and that for the remainder of her employment the man who made the remark used “gender-based and demeaning slurs to refer to” her and other women at the company.

Other former employees said they did not bring their complaints to human resources because they thought Ciardelli or other executives and managers meddled in the department’s business and might retaliate, with at least two former employees saying they’d observed how company leaders protected certain staff members. Others said they did complain but felt the department didn’t take the information seriously.

In response to a detailed list of questions from the Tribune, Ciardelli and Guaranteed Rate vehemently denied all of these allegations, describing the company as a positive workplace environment where women in particular are supported. The firm went to remarkable lengths to dispute the allegations, including sending the results of a worker satisfaction survey it conducted and forwarding more than 80 testimonials from current and former employees. Among them were five of Ciardelli’s current or former assistants, as well as numerous male and female executives praising his leadership and support.

The company also retained an outside law firm that, even before receiving the reporters’ list of questions, threatened to sue the newspaper for defamation.

Guaranteed Rate, whose corporate headquarters is in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood, has grown tremendously since its founding in 2000 to become one of the largest mortgage lenders in the country based on loan volume, according to industry news and data provider Inside Mortgage Finance. Its name has adorned the White Sox stadium since 2016, and as recently as 2018, Guaranteed Rate was named a Chicago Tribune Top Workplace — a distinction based on surveys conducted by an outside company, with no input from editorial staff on the selection.

Guaranteed Rate CEO Victor Ciardelli prepares to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a White Sox home game in Aug. 2016. The ballpark would be renamed after his company later that year. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)
Guaranteed Rate CEO Victor Ciardelli prepares to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a White Sox home game in August 2016. The ballpark would be renamed after his company later that year. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

Jason Scott, a former top-producing loan officer and director of VA lending, which provides home loans to military veterans and active-duty service members, at Guaranteed Rate said his earlier years at the company — when lower mortgage rates fueled industry growth — were positive. But Ciardelli’s outbursts and verbal abuse of employees grew more noticeable, he said, when rising interest rates started to erode those gains, especially after the boom years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think crazy success just brings out who the real people are,” said Scott, who reported to Ciardelli in his director role and now works for CrossCountry Mortgage, a competitor of Guaranteed Rate. “What did you sacrifice to get there? Did you sacrifice your soul or your core values?”

Many other former employees who spoke with the Tribune did so on the condition they would not be named in this story, saying they feared Guaranteed Rate would sue them. Guaranteed Rate has filed lawsuits against former employees to claw back signing bonuses; it also has sued competitor New American Funding and former employees who have hired former Guaranteed Rate workers, accusing them of unlawful poaching.

Ciardelli declined to be interviewed without his attorney for this story. In response to written questions provided by the Tribune, he and the company suggested the criticism of Guaranteed Rate came from disgruntled employees who could not succeed in a demanding work environment within a challenging industry, or from people who now work for a competitor and therefore would benefit from disparaging the company.

“We hold ourselves and our team members to an incredibly high standard and are not apologetic about that,” Ciardelli said in his written responses, sent through the outside law firm retained to handle communications with 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 specifically denied berating staff, yelling at executives after the app launch or ever calling employees “stupid” or “failures.” He quoted the company’s chief operating officer, Nik Athanasiou, as saying: “I have worked with Victor for 15 years. No one is in more meetings with him than me. I do not ever recall an instance where Victor was abusive toward another employee.”

Ciardelli also pointed to the company’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and said neither he nor any other executive interfered with human resources.

In response to questions from the Tribune about women’s complaints, including being subjected to sexually explicit comments and working in a “boys club” atmosphere, Ciardelli wrote that such allegations are “simply not true.” The company “has not, does not, and would not objectify women or put them in uncomfortable personal or professional situations,” he wrote.

Ciardelli also highlighted the large number of female loan officers working at the company, their professional success and the testimonials from female employees. When the Tribune asked to speak with four of those women, only one — Rola Gurrieri, the company’s New Jersey-based chief fulfillment officer — agreed to be interviewed without outside counsel or management present.

Regarding the lawsuit filed by former Guaranteed Rate loan officer Megan McDermott, the company told the Tribune it had “found no evidence supporting Ms. McDermott’s allegations of sexual harassment or gender discrimination” after conducting a “comprehensive investigation.”

Guaranteed Rate also sent a general statement detailing the company’s business philosophy, which includes a “fierce commitment to excellence.” Employees who do not “meet our core values or our quality standards” find it challenging to maintain job satisfaction at the company, it said.

“Many of these employees walk away not feeling good about the company which is a natural emotion when faced with a reality that their standards and the company standards are not aligned,” the statement said.

But many of the former employees who spoke with the Tribune described a cutthroat work culture they said could be frightening and upsetting, with several attributing that culture to Ciardelli’s laser focus on making money and growing Guaranteed Rate.

A sign is installed at the White Sox baseball stadium in Oct. 2016 to proclaim its new name: Guaranteed Rate Field. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune).
A sign is installed at the White Sox stadium in October 2016 to proclaim its new name: Guaranteed Rate Field. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune)

The former assistant who emailed human resources asked not to be identified in this story, fearing it might jeopardize her current job or trigger retaliation from Ciardelli. In that email, the woman wrote that she was “constantly on edge and terrified to have an interaction with Mr. Ciardelli” and that she had “consoled each assistant on his team that endured the wrath of Mr. Ciardelli’s behavior.”

“I hope that my experience will open your eyes,” she wrote.

Flying too close to the sun

In an interview with the Tribune in 2014, Ciardelli made plain his ambition to grow the company.

“If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t be here,” Ciardelli said. “Instead of feeling like, oh, we care about people’s feelings and all that, it’s all about results.”

In the same article, Ciardelli said he worked constructively with his employees when issues arose at work. “There’s no drama involved; there’s no yelling,” he said. “Let’s fix the issue and move on.”

But multiple former executives and employees told the Tribune Ciardelli regularly yelled at and verbally attacked executives and other employees in person and on company calls, sometimes in front of hundreds of people, with the calls following the app launch just one example.

Some former and current employees told the Tribune they tried to avoid Ciardelli because they were scared of his temper.

Scott, the former director of VA lending who worked at Guaranteed Rate from 2017 until he resigned in 2022, splitting his time between offices in Hawaii and Colorado, called Ciardelli a “bully.”

Scott told the Tribune that, during one call, Ciardelli took an executive “to the woodshed and just eviscerated him verbally,” saying things such as “I can’t believe you are this stupid.”

“(Victor) throws the grenade and then he leaves the room,” not giving people a chance to explain or talk through the issue, Scott said.

At the time of Ciardelli’s 2014 Tribune interview, Guaranteed Rate had 2,500 employees nationally, 1,050 of whom were based in Chicago, according to Tribune archives.

The company grew to employ 9,708 people nationwide at its peak in 2021, Guaranteed Rate told the Tribune in May. Part of the company’s growth stemmed from its acquisitions of other mortgage companies: Manhattan Mortgage and Superior Mortgage in 2012 and Stearns Lending in 2021.

Victor Ciardelli, shown in 2014 at Guaranteed Rate’s headquarters, told the Tribune that year that he had ambitious plans for the company and “if you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t be here.” (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune)

Guaranteed Rate also partners on mortgage services with some of the largest real estate companies in the country. Including the people working in those partnerships, Guaranteed Rate had 14,264 employees at its height in 2021.

Like other mortgage companies, Guaranteed Rate has suffered a significant decline in business over the last two years, stemming from mortgage rates that have more than doubled from their record lows during the pandemic.

As mortgage rates soared in 2022 and 2023, the firm implemented thousands of layoffs, with only 3,871 workers remaining as of April, or 5,756 among all its companies, excluding contractors, as of May, according to the company.

Yet Ciardelli’s volatile behavior predated the stressful times in the housing market, according to some people who worked for Guaranteed Rate. Many people who “fly too close to the sun” — a metaphor some employees used to describe working directly with Ciardelli — eventually leave, they said.

People who work in personal and executive assistant roles for Ciardelli rarely last long in their jobs, with many leaving after less than a year, former employees said. Some referred to Ciardelli’s assistant position as a “revolving door,” and the LinkedIn profiles of multiple former assistants show short stints with the company.

More than two dozen executives and senior loan officers have left the company over the last decade, with a significant exodus occurring in the past two years. Multiple former executives and loan officers — including Scott — told the Tribune they left because of Ciardelli’s verbal outbursts and what many described as a workplace where they felt bullying and misogyny were tolerated. Most now work for competitors.

Ciardelli and other executives sometimes would disparage people who left the company, according to Scott.

“I would be like ‘Guys, did anybody ever think about reaching out to them before they left and having an exit interview with them?’” Scott said. “You are talking about a person that was a top producer here that you loved them as long as they produced, and now that they leave, they are an enemy? … They are leaving for a reason.”

In Ciardelli’s written responses to Tribune questions, he said allegations of a toxic work environment or bullying on his part are “not aligned with Guaranteed Rate or my leadership.” He said neither he nor other executives have disparaged former employees when they left the company.

In response to a question about assistant turnover, Ciardelli wrote that he has worked closely with five “primary” assistants since 2000. “As is the case with any demanding support roles, there has been some turnover with secondary and tertiary assistants, but nothing that is abnormal or unexpected,” he wrote.

One testimonial sent to the Tribune was from Melissa Czaszwicz, who said she worked for Ciardelli as an executive assistant in the early 2000s. She wrote that she had a positive experience working closely with Ciardelli, who she said was especially supportive when she had children.

“Never did I witness anything inappropriate or out of line,” said Czaszwicz, who still works at Guaranteed Rate.

‘Mental health has suffered’

Some former employees who spoke with the Tribune said they were driven to seek mental health support during and after their time at the company because of the negative work environment they experienced at Guaranteed Rate.

Most of those who shared their experiences worked for an executive who has a close working relationship with Ciardelli. Former workers said this executive also verbally abused staff and was prone to volatile mood swings.

One told the Tribune she texted and called a suicide hotline last year while working at the company because of verbal abuse from the executive; she shared the texts she sent with the Tribune.

In her resignation email, sent to the executive and to the human resources department last year, she wrote: “My mental health has rapidly declined due to the way I have been treated and spoken to in the last couple of months.”

Another employee from the same team wrote in a 2019 resignation letter sent to the executive, human resources, Ciardelli and others that his “mental health has suffered.”

Founded in 2000, Guaranteed Rate grew to become one of the largest mortgage lenders in the country but has suffered a decline in business as mortgage rates have soared in the last two years. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
Founded in 2000, Guaranteed Rate grew to become one of the largest mortgage lenders in the country but has suffered a decline in business as mortgage rates have soared in the last two years. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

In the resignation email and in an interview with the Tribune, the former employee said his boss gave him the runaround when he asked for time off to attend his mother’s chemotherapy appointments and complained to other employees about his requests.

Other employees discouraged him from requesting leave directly from human resources, warning him he would be fired if he went around the executive, according to the email.

Alyssa Ortiz, another former employee, said working with this executive was like being in an “abusive” relationship, being yelled at one minute and being invited for drinks the next.

“Everyone has gotten … chewed out and left crying,” said Ortiz, who worked for Guaranteed Rate from 2017 to 2019.

Ortiz told the Tribune that human resources and Ciardelli had been notified of this executive’s verbal mistreatment of employees but did nothing. She and about a dozen other former employees told the Tribune they felt Ciardelli protected this executive because of their working relationship.

In a written exit interview from 2020, one employee from the same department described how the executive would discuss former employees’ exit interviews with current employees.

“This created a fear for us to go to HR for anything moving forward,” the employee wrote.

Ciardelli said the company was not aware of any incident in which an executive read former employees’ exit interviews aloud; he said Guaranteed Rate “would never support this practice.”

Dozens of employees have left the executive’s department since 2017, according to interviews with former workers and LinkedIn profiles. The executive has since been promoted, the executive’s LinkedIn profile and the company’s website show.

In 2018, the head of human resources at the time took away the HR representative working with the executive’s department because of “risks” the executive posed to the company, according to an email reviewed by the Tribune.

“I can’t in good conscience keep allowing (the executive) to drag other employee (sic) into … schemes,” the former HR head wrote. “And by schemes I mean risky bull−−−−.” The department would have no assigned human resources representative after that, according to the email.

In correspondence with the Tribune, Guaranteed Rate 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.”

Some of the employee testimonials provided by Guaranteed Rate expressed similar sentiments. For example, Mohamed Tawy, a branch manager and senior loan officer who has been with Guaranteed Rate for three years, wrote that the culture at the company is the best he has experienced in his 15-year career.

In an interview with the Tribune, Tawy said: “As a top producer … and I’m also a minority myself, I haven’t felt anything or seen anything that makes this company in any way negative for anybody that’s different. … I’ve seen here all that matters is that you do a good job, your production is good and that you follow the protocols and the rules, and I’ve seen people succeed with that more than any company I’ve been with.”

The Guaranteed Rate spokesperson also shared the results of an employee experience survey conducted in February. According to the company, the average rating for the culture at Guaranteed Rate was 8.49 out of 10, with nearly 75% of 3,745 employees responding. Those ratings were based on employees’ stated level of comfort providing feedback and/or concerns, how much they felt supported by the company in maintaining a healthy work-life balance and their sense of Guaranteed Rate’s commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion.

The email from the spokesperson said the company received “a countless number of positive comments and appreciation for their leaders, teams and our overall culture.”

In response to Tribune questions, Guaranteed Rate said in May that the survey was anonymous and it was analyzed by its “employee experience team.” The company did not provide the Tribune with a complete set of responses from the survey, but it volunteered that employees used the word “toxic” to make a negative comment about Guaranteed Rate in only 14 of the more than 5,000 written responses provided to three open-ended survey questions.

‘Mortified and disgusted’

Megan McDermott, a single mother of three, met her supervisor at Guaranteed Rate, Jon Lamkin, in person for the first time at a corporate event in December 2015, according to the lawsuit she filed in February.

When Lamkin heard the age of her oldest child, the suit alleges, he said: “You should have known better than to let some guy’s d−−− c−−− inside you.”

According to her lawsuit, McDermott reported the comment to Joseph Moschella, a regional manager and senior loan officer at Guaranteed Rate who was responsible for McDermott’s region while she worked at the company. Moschella, the suit alleges, “pressured” her not to make a formal complaint of sexual harassment to human resources.

McDermott told the Tribune she was “mortified and disgusted” after Lamkin made the comment.

“The irony here is that Jon should have known better than to treat an employee the way he did rather than telling me I should have known better to become a single mother at 20 years old,” McDermott said, “which is vile. … He set the tone the first day I met him of the power Joe and Jon had over my career.”

Megan McDermott, shown in March in New Jersey, has filed a lawsuit alleging she was “subjected to a sexual and gender-based hostile work environment” at Guaranteed Rate and did not receive the same opportunities, treatment and pay as male loan officers. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

As McDermott went on to become a top-producing loan officer for Guaranteed Rate in New Jersey, her suit alleges Lamkin subjected her to abuse by “regularly screaming at her and using gender-based and demeaning slurs to refer to” her and other women at the company.

Her lawsuit alleges she was “subjected to a sexual and gender-based hostile work environment” by Guaranteed Rate, Lamkin and Moschella. Her suit also alleges McDermott did not receive the same opportunities, treatment and pay as male loan officers, which some other female loan officers told the Tribune reflected their own experiences as well.

McDermott did not lodge a complaint after Lamkin’s comment because she “believed she would be retaliated against” if she did so, the suit states. When she did report to HR around 2019 that Lamkin had engaged in “abusive behavior,” the department “failed to do anything to investigate or curtail Defendant Lamkin’s behavior,” the complaint alleges.

“Joe encouraged me not to go to HR because of the damage it would do to Jon’s career,” McDermott said. “Ultimately, all that they were worried about was Jon, his reputation and his career versus reporting inappropriate behavior.”

Guaranteed Rate told the Tribune in its May response that Lamkin’s comment was “nothing more than a single off-color joke,” that McDermott accepted an apology from Lamkin and that Moschella “encouraged” McDermott to contact human resources if she was “still upset.”

The company said it “could not find any record of Ms. McDermott making any form of complaint to the company’s human resources department in 2019, either verbally or in writing.”

McDermott told the Tribune she helped build Guaranteed Rate’s business in north Jersey from the ground up and said she loved the work until she found out she was not being treated equally as a woman.

“I believe management did not want to see me succeed, didn’t take me seriously and made decisions that negatively affected me and my children financially,” said McDermott, who now works for CrossCountry Mortgage, a competitor. “I ultimately left GR because I could no longer work in an environment where I was not valued and leadership felt that they could exploit me.”

Moschella and Lamkin are still employed at Guaranteed Rate. They did not respond to a Tribune request for comment. Guaranteed Rate told the Tribune in May that it had investigated McDermott’s allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination and found that “there is no evidence that Mr. Lamkin or anyone else at Guaranteed Rate ever created a hostile work environment for women.”

Guaranteed Rate also said in a statement that it complies with state and federal equal pay laws. The company said an “outside law firm” had reviewed its 2023 pay data and found it compliant with state equal pay laws.

In his written responses, Ciardelli highlighted the high percentage of female loan officers at the company in comparison to its competitors and said “our women originators thrive more than at any mortgage company in the industry.”

Employee statements provided through Guaranteed Rate’s attorneys included testimonials from dozens of women. Some noted the existence of the company’s employee resource group for women, GROW, while others cited the presence of women in leadership roles throughout the company.

“In addition to my professional growth I’ve experienced, I am equally grateful for the respect and dignity with which I have been treated as a woman in the workplace,” Jaime Kinman, a senior loan officer, said in her statement. “In an industry where gender biases still exist, I have never once felt marginalized or overlooked because of my gender.”

Gurrieri, the company’s chief fulfillment officer, said in an interview with the Tribune that she “never one time” experienced misogyny at the company.

“I got promoted when I’m six months pregnant,” she said. “That’s unheard of.”

Gurrieri, who has worked for Guaranteed Rate for more than six years, described Ciardelli’s leadership style as “extremely passionate.”

“There’s never been a day where I ever felt disrespected or not appreciated,” she said.

According to a former top executive who reported to Ciardelli for many years and a former human resources employee, a handful of loan officers at Guaranteed Rate were known sexual harassers, making women feel uncomfortable with inappropriate touching and unwanted advances in work settings.

But that behavior was rarely addressed, the former workers believed, because the men were friends with Ciardelli or were high-producing loan officers — each responsible for bringing in tens of millions of dollars in loan volume. Some of these loan officers still work at Guaranteed Rate.

Ciardelli called these allegations “simply not true” and said they were contradicted by the employee testimonials provided through the company’s attorney.

“They are also inconsistent with the recollections and experiences of multiple former HR professionals,” Ciardelli wrote.

A ‘sex-driven’ culture

In interviews with the Tribune, multiple former employees described a “boys club” atmosphere at Guaranteed Rate; Scott, the former director of VA lending, said there was “a lot of misogyny.”

Jessica Moreno, a former Chicago employee who started at Guaranteed Rate at age 23, said she was the first in her family to get a corporate job. Within a year of starting her job, she said, she was paying the mortgage on her family home.

But in her department, Moreno said she experienced a “sex-driven” culture.

“All the guys were just like, tongues on the floor,” said Moreno, who worked for the company for about four years starting in 2014. Her workplace was “like a men’s locker room, and women were in it,” she said.

Jessica Moreno, shown in April in Arizona, worked for Guaranteed Rate for about four years starting in 2014. She said male coworkers and managers hit on her and made comments on her appearance. It was "like a men's locker room, and women were in it," she said. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
Jessica Moreno, shown in April in Arizona, worked for Guaranteed Rate for about four years starting in 2014. She said male co-workers and managers hit on her and made comments on her appearance. It was “like a men’s locker room, and women were in it,” she said. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

Male co-workers and managers would hit on her and make comments on her appearance, calling her pretty, Moreno said. Comments made at Christmas parties or happy hours could be crasser, she said.

“You’ll get, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to f−−− you,’” she said.

Moreno said she once overheard a male manager describe a woman who had interviewed for a job as a “fox.” Another time, she said, a manager invited a female massage therapist to the office; Moreno remembers male co-workers commenting on the therapist’s body, too.

Soon after she’d started at Guaranteed Rate, Moreno said, she met with HR to make a complaint about a manager who swore at and belittled her. The HR representative brushed off her concerns in that meeting, she said.

“After that, I felt so discouraged to never even speak up again,” Moreno said.

Moreno ended up leaving her position before taking a job working for a Guaranteed Rate loan officer; she said she was terminated after clashing with the loan officer’s assistant.

Some female former employees of Guaranteed Rate said they understood looks to be a currency within the company.

One former Chicago employee said a manager encouraged her to text a selfie to a client after hearing the client flirt with her over the phone and say he’d be inclined to speed up the loan process if he knew what she looked like.

The employee said she sent the selfie, and the manager then pushed her to go along with the client’s harassment until the loan closed, she said.

After receiving the photo, the client responded, “As pretty as you are I can’t believe some man hasn’t run off with you just howling away,” in a text reviewed by the Tribune. Later on, after sending her forms, the client texted her: “You said I would get another pic when I sent you the forms so?”

The employee said another manager in her division would frequently flirt with her and comment on her appearance. He once texted her to “stop losing weight damn it” and another time texted her that she “broke (his) concentration,” according to texts reviewed by the Tribune.

Another former Chicago employee remembered a manager telling her, while she was pregnant with her first child, “Whatever you do, don’t get a C-section — you’ll never wear a bikini again.” The employee went out on maternity leave days later. She said she did end up needing a C-section and remembers the manager’s comment echoing in her head as she was wheeled back for surgery. Two people the woman told about the incident at the time corroborated her account in interviews with the Tribune.

Several former employees in the marketing department, including two men, told the Tribune Ciardelli made comments about workers’ ages. One employee got Botox and fillers after Ciardelli told employees they were “too old” and likened the marketing department to his “grandmother’s mortgage company,” according to former marketing department employees.

In his written responses, Ciardelli said “Guaranteed Rate is committed to fostering an environment that promotes diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. We maintain a comprehensive set of employment policies aimed at providing a work environment free of unlawful harassment and discrimination, where all employees treat one another with dignity and respect.”

Guaranteed Rate's corporate headquarters is located in Chicago's North Center neighborhood in a building with a rooftop gathering space. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
Guaranteed Rate’s corporate headquarters is in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood in a building with a rooftop gathering space. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

A spokesperson said in the April 1 email sharing the employee survey results that the company had launched “even more initiatives to ensure we have a positive work environment,” including anti-harassment training, training for the human resources team “to take proper and appropriate steps and best practices for investigating and responding to employee complaints” and reminders to employees on how to report harassment or abuse.

“Our executive team has emphasized to Human Resources that all complaints should be investigated, and any form of harassment and misconduct should be dealt with swiftly – and all managers and employees who are not acting in accordance with our values be rooted out of our organization,” the spokesperson wrote.

In the company’s May responses, it said these initiatives were launched in 2023 and were to “expand and enhance” the existing training program.

All Guaranteed Rate employees must complete “harassment and discrimination prevention training” upon being hired and on an annual basis thereafter, according to the company’s May response. The company said Guaranteed Rate has an “anti-retaliation” policy that prohibits retaliation against employees who report alleged harassment or discrimination or participate in an investigation into the conduct. The company also noted it has an ethics hotline through which employees can make anonymous complaints.

“We respect and treat all employees equally no matter their sex, color, or creed,” Ciardelli wrote.

In the last 10 years, Guaranteed Rate has not settled any lawsuits involving claims of a hostile work environment, according to the company. Guaranteed Rate’s response stated that within that time frame, the company settled six claims involving allegations of a hostile work environment, including arbitration cases as well as claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state and local agencies. The majority of those claims were brought by male employees, and one was resolved in Guaranteed Rate’s favor, the company said.

Guaranteed Rate employees are asked to sign mandatory arbitration agreements when they are hired, but sexual harassment claims and claims filed with the EEOC and similar state agencies are not subject to arbitration, according to Guaranteed Rate’s May responses.

‘Positive thinking’

Publicly, Ciardelli presents himself as a champion of a positive work environment — an image the company has encouraged employees to promote.

In an email sent in February by a company executive and obtained by the Tribune, employees were encouraged to share a Forbes article featuring Ciardelli; the email provided step-by-step instructions for posting it on social media.

The story, published Feb. 7, was titled “Guaranteed Rate Founder Is All In On ‘Positive Thinking’ This 2024” and described his leadership style as “Chicken Soup for the Mortgage Industry.”

“I communicate the power of positivity and gratitude to everybody around me: employees, friends, family members, everyone,” Ciardelli was quoted as saying.

Less than 24 hours after it went live, the article disappeared from the Forbes website. The site provided no explanation, but one former Guaranteed Rate employee told the Tribune former workers had written to the author about factual inaccuracies.

On Feb. 8, a Guaranteed Rate executive sent another email encouraging employees — again with step-by-step instructions — to delete any social media posts linking to the article.

“We are working with Forbes to resolve and will let you know when it will be reinstated,” the email said. “We apologize for the inconvenience, and we will send out a new link as soon as it’s available.”

The Forbes contributor declined to comment for this story. Forbes told the Tribune the article was taken down because it did not adhere to the company’s “editorial guidelines” and did not respond to further questions.

The article has yet to be republished, but Guaranteed Rate still wants people to read it. The company shared it in a PDF on its LinkedIn page.

ekane@chicagotribune.com

tasoglin@chicagotribune.com

 



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