Top-10 mortgage lender Guaranteed Rate has filed a lawsuit against retail rival New American Funding over poaching. But this isn’t your standard poaching lawsuit: G-Rate alleges that NAF has wooed at least 30 employees since early 2023 via illegal loan officer compensation practices.
Despite the rise in poaching lawsuits in a competitive market, it’s the first time a large lender has publicly accused a competitor of violating the LO comp rule by allowing their salesforce to manipulate lead sources in order to reduce their rates and win more loans.
Tara Castrejon, director of content marketing and public relations at NAF, said in an emailed response to HousingWire that the company does not comment on pending litigation.
A spokesperson for G-Rate did not immediately respond to a request for comments.
“Since February 2023, NAF has unlawfully raided GR’s branches nationwide, poaching over 30 GR employees from coast-to-coast,” the lawsuit states. “To achieve its goals, NAF uses illegal compensation practices to induce GR employees to resign from GR and join NAF, and incentivizes and encourages GR employees to solicit and recruit other GR employees to defect to NAF.”
The lawsuit, which seeks injunction relief and damages, was filed on Dec. 26 in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. G-Rate claims, among other accusations, tortious interference, violation of Illinois deceptive trade practice laws and misappropriation of confidential information.
NAF zeroed in on employees in Washington, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Missouri, Florida, and Illinois, the lawsuit states. The departing employees included a divisional manager, branch and regional managers, and loan officers.
G-Rate claims that it all started when Gregory Griffin, a former regional manager and senior vice president of strategic growth, joined NAF as regional manager of strategic growth, where he was responsible for recruiting in the Midwest Region. Griffin had a “non-solicitation” agreement with his former employer, G-Rate claims.
“After Mr. Griffin’s hiring by NAF in January 2023, the dam broke, and NAF began to aggressively recruit and hire from GR. Prior to this point, NAF had not been able to successfully recruit from GR on such a massive scale,” the lawsuit states.
Griffin did not immediately return to a request for comments.
The lawsuit says that former employees who transitioned to NAF sent borrowers’ information to their emails, including pay stubs and bank statements. G-Rate’s research on publicly available data on closed loans shows “numerous customers took their business from GR to NAF in conjunction with the employee defections to NAF,” it says.
Claims re LO comp rule violations
Among the more explosive claims is that NAF repeatedly violated Regulation Z, which prohibits loan officers from receiving payments based on the “terms of a transaction” other than the amount of credit extended.
The rule also prohibits reductions in LO comp to fund pricing concessions to consumers at the expense of the loan officer, which would be characterized as a change in transaction terms.
G-Rate claims NAF does not pay LOs “a fixed percentage of the loan amount or any other type of compensation permitted by applicable law and regulations.” Instead, the company supposedly offers different pricing buckets based on the source lead and allows LOs to play with them.
“Should the consumer dislike the loan pricing first offered using the ‘self-generated’ ‘bucket,’ the loan officer can freely switch the ‘bucket’ to ‘corporate generated’ or ‘connected generated’ instead, which, in turn, corresponds to lower compensation for the loan officer,” the lawsuit states.
The document follows: “The lower ‘bucket’ results in new, lower pricing to the consumer. If the consumer likes the new pricing, and NAF ‘wins the deal’ with its lower pricing, the loan officer reduces the loan officer’s compensation to provide the consumer with a discount. Put another way; the loan officer is allowed to later (and falsely) change the source of the lead, allowing for lower loan officer compensation and a pricing advantage for NAF over competitors like GR. This approach is illegal.”
G-Rate claims the practice has caused millions of dollars in lost revenues, investment and future business opportunities. It also says NAF misrepresented to potential recruits that its illegal compensation arrangements were “audited” and approved by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).