Credit: Justin Santora

Since protests against the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis spurred a reckoning over racism and white supremacy in almost every industry, employees at companies around the country have come forward demanding changes in corporate culture that leaves people of color, and especially Black people, feeling unwelcome, undervalued, and often actually underpaid. The real estate industry is no exception.

In September the Reader was alerted to two complaints, one filed with the city’s Commission on Human Relations and the other with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, detailing discrimination and racist statements made by high-level managers at Pangea, one of Chicago’s biggest corporate landlords. Until the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the company was the city’s most prolific filer of eviction cases. Its apartment holdings are concentrated largely in Black neighborhoods on the south and west sides of the city and in nearby suburbs, now totaling 9,400 units in 492 buildings. The company also has several thousand more units in Indianapolis and Baltimore.

The complaints were filed by Armando Magana, 45, the chief maintenance supervisor at Pangea in Chicago who’d been with the company since 2010. He’s worked in various roles and received promotions and bonuses, most recently in February, Magana writes. “Notwithstanding my exceptional performance, Pangea has repeatedly discriminated against me because of my Hispanic ethnicity and my Mexican national origin. Throughout my employment, Pangea has also subjected me to a hostile work environment based on numerous derisive and derogatory statements made by Pangea’s managers and executives regarding my ethnicity and national origin.”

Magana’s complaint includes several examples of such statements from vice president of operations Derek Reich and CEO Pete Martay. He claims that in 2017 Reich “told me that I should avoid being seen working with an African-American work colleague if I did not want to be viewed in the same way as that ‘lazy nigger.'”

Magana details two occasions in 2018 when Reich “suggested hiring ‘illegals’ because they will accept less compensation,” and resisted Magana’s recommendations for which employees should get raises, allegedly saying, “‘aren’t these guys illegal?'”

Further in the complaints he recounts a 2019 meeting in which management for a newly acquired building near Loyola University on the north side was allegedly discussed. “My African American colleague asked, ‘who will be managing the building,’ to which Mr. Reich responded, ‘they’ve never seen a Regional Manager of your kind in that area.’ I asked about getting access to the roof top, to which Mr. Martay stated, ‘Yeah I can imagine Armando showing up with his trash can and saying “Hello I’m Armando, the janitor here to clean up after you.”‘”

Later that year, Magana alleges he “met with Mr. Reich at a property that Pangea had recently begun to manage. During a discussion regarding employee staff assignments, Mr. Reich remarked that ‘Mexicans are for custodial and maintenance, Blacks for property management, and Whites for the back office, that’s it.'” The following month Magana alleges that Martay said to him, in front of other employees, “I should make you pull your fucking tools back out and make you clean shit out of the fucking tubs, like you used to.”

Magana writes that he reported Martay’s “derogatory comments” to Reich and both supervisors’ comments to Pangea’s HR manager Lori Bysong as well as the company’s CFO Patrick Borchard and cofounder and former CEO Steve Joung. “Mr. Joung listened to me, then responded by saying that he doubted workplace discrimination was occurring.”

Magana claims in the complaint that at the end of 2019 he also had a conversation with Pangea’s operations manager Sean McQuade about hiring and pay for new workers, requesting $22/hour for one of them. “Mr. McQuade responded by asking ‘Do you know if he’s illegal? Do you think he has papers? . . . Do you think this guy is worth $22/hour?'” Again, Magana claims he reported these comments to HR, Pangea’s in-house attorney Jennifer Dean, and other supervisors.

“Despite having complained on multiple occasions directly to multiple members of Pangea management, no one at the Company ever responded to, investigated, or otherwise communicated with me regarding my several complaints,” Magana writes. “Rather, Mr. Reich continues to make derogatory, discriminatory comments toward me. Specifically, on May 12, 2020, Mr. Reich called me and stated, ‘stop treating me like a shine. Last time I checked I was white.'”

In both an internal e-mail obtained by the Reader and in an e-mailed statement from CEO Pete Martay, Pangea has denied Magana’s allegations and said he’s refused to cooperate in the company’s internal efforts to investigate.

“Pangea Properties has zero tolerance for racist or discriminatory behavior,” Martay wrote to the Reader. “We take allegations of this nature very seriously. As a result, we hired a neutral investigator to carry out a prompt and thorough investigation and have also engaged legal representation to defend the company against allegations we believe are baseless. The complainant and his witnesses have refused multiple requests to participate in our investigation.”

The Reader also presented the company with an opportunity to respond to additional allegations made by ten other current and former employees about Pangea’s corporate culture. These included vivid descriptions of demeaning statements by Reich and other supervisors, as well as allegations of segregated and demeaning working conditions. “We categorically deny the claims in the complaint and also the statements made against us by former employees,” wrote Martay. Neither Reich nor McQuade, whose conduct Magana also referenced in his complaint, responded to a request for comment.

Hostile work environments are both ubiquitous and difficult to reform. Their toxicity can be hard to pin down and prove on paper, especially when corporate promotions and official praise are interspersed with interpersonal disrespect and disregard. As a reckoning over the prejudices endemic to white-dominated workplaces roils the private and public sectors, employees of color from businesses and institutions as varied as Adidas, LinkedIn, Vogue, the San Francisco health department, and Loyola University have begun speaking out about the racial microaggressions, gaslighting, and harassment that defines office culture for them.

Even as he received glowing performance reviews, Magana could also feel hostility from management. For example, in an August 2013 e-mail obtained by the Reader, Reich wrote a brief note to another regional manager. The subject line read, “Armando was excited about converting to Islam . . . ” and inside the body of the e-mail the sentence ended ” . . . Until he found out you can’t eat pork.” Attached was a photo of Magana, grinning, in a little white hat reminiscent of a kufi skull cap.

When asked about the e-mail Magana said he was dismayed at being the target of a crude joke that appeared to be both Islamophobic and about his weight. “I never thought he was gonna take a picture and send it,” he said with a grim chuckle as we looked at the image over beers at the nearly deserted patio of the Promontory in Hyde Park. Magana wore a black valve mask and a short sleeve blue polo, apparently unbothered by the biting gusts of wind on that late September afternoon. As he stared at the photo he said the fact that it had been e-mailed was unusual; in his experience Reich rarely left a paper trail of demeaning comments. “It was always phone calls with Derek,” Magana said. “He really doesn’t like to put anything in e-mail. If you send him an e-mail, he’ll call. If you meet him in the field, he’ll make those comments.”

As documented in his complaints, Magana attempted to have the “discriminatory communications and behavior” he experienced addressed internally, but complaints to HR and leaders of the company didn’t help. Finally he started working with attorney Marc Siegel to appeal to external authorities to intervene. The company soon also hired an outside attorney to help handle the situation.

Pangea’s lawyers “kept telling [Siegel] that I was exaggerating and they always treated me good and they weren’t being racist toward me,” Magana told the Reader. “Long story short, I told my attorney I’m not gonna play this game, I’m gonna file this with the state and city and I’m gonna make it public.”

By late spring the stress of working at Pangea had intensified due to the coronavirus pandemic. “I broke down because when the COVID started Derek was just calling me every other day, every other day: ‘What are you doing?’ I’d say ‘We’re working . . . but we don’t have any sanitizing supplies. We don’t have masks.'”

Magana said Pangea didn’t offer hazard pay. Some field employees took time off because they were scared to go back into the apartment buildings, especially when word got around that tenants were falling ill. Magana says Reich didn’t seem to care. “It was like, ‘All these guys need to come back to work.’ I’m like, ‘Derek we’re all working, there’s some people who took off because they’re scared.'”

Magana said that Reich demanded that he choose five of his staff to fire as part of a company effort to reduce the employee headcount to below 500 so that Pangea could qualify for a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the federal government.

He said that in late March Reich called him. “He says, ‘You got any shitty people working for you? Give me five.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t have any shitty people working for me.’ He’s like, ‘Well, give me five.'”

The Reader obtained an e-mail Magana sent to Reich the next day, listing four employees who changed positions in the company without being replaced and one who was about to leave Pangea anyway. “There’s your four plus one, he’s already out the door,” Magana recalled thinking. He said that after that he got another phone call from Reich who demanded he name five additional people to fire because Pangea’s employee count was at 512.

Magana said he submitted another list of names. “I was destroyed about that,” he said. According to records released by the Small Business Administration in July, Pangea was awarded a $5-$10 million loan through the PPP program. They listed an employee count of 494.

By June, Magana needed a break. The stress of the job was getting to him and affecting his family, and he took a leave of absence for a month and a half. “I got kind of depressed, stressed out, I was trying to take care of my health,” he said. “I found out my son was depressed, so I had to dedicate myself to him.”

Magana said things got worse for him at Pangea after he came back to work in July. There were sudden extra meetings where he was questioned about his work. He felt increasingly micromanaged.

Nevertheless, Magana was still determined to continue working at the company, where he was making $115,000 in salary, got bonuses, and to which he’d devoted a decade of his life. “I’m happy where I’m at, I’m good at what I do, I’ve done nothing wrong,” he said.

Word about Magana’s complaint began to get out at Pangea, and e-mails from pseudonymised accounts suddenly appeared in all field employees’ inboxes, sharing Magana’s complaints and encouraging them to file their own. The company quickly deleted these e-mails from employees’ inboxes, however. In a September 30 e-mail to all field employees obtained by the Reader, Martay acknowledged that deletion, adding that the “current employee” who complained about mistreatment “refused to cooperate and will not speak to the independent investigator” Pangea hired to look into the allegations. Though Martay didn’t refer to Magana by name in this e-mail, Magana says he felt the CEO’s message was meant to undermine him. “We categorically deny the claims made in the complaint and have engaged legal representation to defend the company against them,” Martay wrote.

By the beginning of October, Magana felt he could no longer remain at Pangea. “I cannot continue to work under hostile environment with retaliation,” he wrote to me in a text message. Though he technically resigned from his job himself, his attorney argues that he was “constructively discharged” by management because of the “discrimination and harassment and retaliation he faced at work.”

According to legal precedent established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2006 Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White decision, the definition of retaliation for complaints about workplace discrimination is broad. “It could be making your work life more difficult. It could be micromanaging you. It could be icing you out—anything that could make a reasonable person feel dissuaded from bringing a complaint,” said Siegel. “It doesn’t have to be a termination or written suspension.”

Most of Pangea's holdings are vintage apartment buildings in Black neighborhoods on the south and west side. In some areas the company owns most or all of the mid-sized buildings on a block.
Most of Pangea’s holdings are vintage apartment buildings in Black neighborhoods on the south and west side. In some areas the company owns most or all of the mid-sized buildings on a block.Credit: Travis Roozée

In the weeks after learning about Magana’s complaint, the Reader spoke with ten other current and former employees (all of them African American) who detailed similar allegations and confirmed Magana’s description of the work environment at Pangea. All of them confirmed the existence of an unofficial but clearly visible racial hierarchy at the company: The day-to-day management of buildings and tenant relations is assigned to Black and Latinx workers, while the corporate back office and C-suite are overwhelmingly white. Indeed Pangea even has separate landing pages presenting its field employees, who appear to be mostly people of color, and a selection of its corporate staff, most of whom appear to be white.

“It’s set up in an absolute caste system,” said one current employee who didn’t want to share his name for fear of retaliation but who said he’s worked at the company in various roles for several years. “If you took a picture of the forearm of everyone who worked there, I could with 95 percent certainty tell you where they work.”

The employee said he felt that Pangea wanted to present itself as a Black-owned or Black-led organization to the public because “any time there’s a politician or political event they send younger Black males to send the perception that there are young Black men doing well in this business when in actuality they’re underpaying.” He added that while it’s possible for African Americans to move up in the company within roles in the field, promotions into the corporate office for a worker like him are unthinkable.

He and others said that the company’s internal segregation became particularly apparent when, for a time, its customer service call center (staffed almost exclusively by people of color) was colocated with its corporate office at 640 N. LaSalle. He described stepping out of the elevator to see signs directing call center employees in one direction, and everyone else in another. “They could have said everybody Brown to the left, everybody white to the right. It was reminiscent of Jim Crow,” he said, adding that the corporate staff “didn’t share entrances, bathrooms, or break rooms with employees of color.”

Magana and several other employees who spoke with the Reader described the call center as a room encased in glass in the middle of the corporate office. An ex-employee who also didn’t want to share his name said the call center “was like a cage” with a door that locked from the inside, preventing call center workers from entering the corporate office, while allowing workers from the corporate side to enter the call center. “To see other Black people pretty much caged up was embarrassing,” he said.

Robert Tucker, who began his career at Pangea at the call center in Chicago in 2015 said that it felt “like a zoo.” He was particularly bothered by the visible disparity in the amenities offered to employees on either side of the glass. “You got one side with beer kegs, Keurigs, Kashi bars, fruits, craft teas, people have bottles of whiskey and scotch in their offices,” he said. “The people in the call center, all Black and a few Hispanics, could see all that stuff from the call center section but weren’t allowed to use any of that stuff. And our coffee is in a little rudimentary break room with a cheap machine and cheap packets of sugar. I see that as racism.”

Still, Tucker said he didn’t have personal problems with managers at Pangea until he took a promotion and transferred to the Baltimore office two and a half years later. It was there that he first encountered Derek Reich, who oversaw the Indianapolis and Baltimore markets before becoming the vice president of operations for the whole company. Most problematic for Tucker, however, was his direct supervisor, Brenda Hurford.

“She would disrespect us, the workers, the tenants, and make comments about tenants being ‘ghetto,'” Tucker recalled. He described one incident in which Hurford had an altercation with some kids who’d been hanging around on a corner near one of Pangea’s apartment complexes. “She goes out there and starts yelling at these kids, cussing at the kids, and one of the kids just says, ‘Suck my D.’ She responds, to a teenager, ‘I would never do that ’cause your D is too little.’ To a child. She was at least 40.” (Hurford, who no longer works at Pangea, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.)

Tucker said Hurford demeaned the way he and other staff spoke with tenants, who he said were mostly Black and very poor. “If a tenant comes in mad and we talk to them in a language that’s gonna calm them down she’ll say, ‘Why are you talking to them like a thug?'” he said. “[Hurford was] someone from outside the culture coming out and making every comment, like, ‘This is ghetto,’ or ‘Why do you guys shake hands like that?'”

Pierre Torchenot, another former employee who worked as an office manager under Hurford, said that cultural competency among workers who knew the Baltimore community well was not valued, and that Hurford policed the language and behavior of her staff according to white cultural norms.

“I’m Haitian and I’ve been in the Baltimore community long enough. There’s a culture there that I’m familiar with,” Torchenot explained. “There’s a certain way you address [residents] and it makes them feel at home. We’re not saying anything that’s not professional, but [Hurford] would come to me saying, ‘Why do you talk that way? Is this something like with your homeboys?’ or ‘Is that the hood talk?'”

Torchenot left his job in 2017. Hurford “was driving me nuts, making my life miserable,” he said. “Before I left I wrote a letter to the company’s head letting him know what’s happening, and the entire board.”

Tucker and Torchenot both said that complaining about Hurford’s behavior to upper management didn’t yield improved working conditions. “When we had a problem with Brenda, Derek was the next person to talk to, and Derek empowered Brenda,” Torchenot said. “We always felt that Derek was an enabler.”

Tucker said Reich himself would “talk to us in a condescending tone.” He recalled a meeting in August 2017 at which Reich “was cussing at” property manager Jeffrey Knox. Tucker recalled that Reich was unhappy about something Knox had said and “was saying, ‘I don’t want to hear excuses, you get your job done, if you don’t fucking like it you can go fucking quit and I can go get someone else.’ It was just pure disrespect.”

Knox himself, who’d started working in maintenance at the company in 2015 and was quickly promoted to property management, said he didn’t feel that Reich and Hurford’s disrespect was racially motivated, but that the work environment was toxic. He, as well as the three other former Pangea Baltimore employees, noted that the one white woman who worked as a property manager seemed to get a lot more leeway from management. He and other Black staffers, meanwhile, felt chronically overworked. Knox said he complained about Hurford’s behavior to Pangea’s HR manager Lori Bysong. “She would always act like she was interested,” Knox said, adding that it didn’t seem like anything ever came of these complaints. (Bysong left Pangea in September. She declined to comment for this story.)

Knox quit his job after the meeting at which Reich dressed him down over a conference call line in front of other colleagues. “I was suggesting to Derek a few things we could probably try to do differently, and he told me I need to shut the hell up and go along with the program.” On August 21, 2017, after being denied an exit interview, he sent management an e-mail regarding his experience working for Pangea. He complained about Hurford and urged the company to devote more resources and manpower to building maintenance.

“Work is not getting done . . . drain backup not being addressed for days on end,” he wrote. Hurford forwarded Knox’s e-mail to Tucker and another employee. “For all the shit he talked about maintenance . . . yet only my name is mentioned LMFAO,” she wrote. “Not that it really matters.”

Tucker submitted this e-mail and myriad other documentation about Hurford’s conduct in an appeal to the Maryland Department of Labor, which initially denied him unemployment benefits because Pangea fired him for “inappropriate behavior towards management.” Tucker said this was retaliation for complaining about the working conditions. He ultimately won the appeal.

Pangea has claimed credit for reviving south and west side communities, even as it’s filed more than 9,000 eviction cases since 2009.
Pangea has claimed credit for reviving south and west side communities, even as it’s filed more than 9,000 eviction cases since 2009.Credit: Justin Santora

Pangea’s current and former employees contended that the workplace culture within the company was reflective of how management viewed their tenants. Most of the former employees who spoke with the Reader were fired or said they felt they had no choice but to resign; all of them said that sticking up for residents or pushing back on management’s directives to cut corners caused them to face hostility from their bosses.

“They fired me because there were things that I didn’t like going on at the company as far as how they were treating certain residents in certain areas,” said Phillip Jenkins, a former property manager who worked at Pangea in Chicago between 2014 and 2019. “A lot of residents couldn’t get any resolution to the maintenance issues in their units.” He said he’d sometimes bring these issues to the attention of his direct supervisors’ bosses. “They called it breaking the chain of command.”

Wanda Kelley, who worked as both a leasing agent and a property manager at Pangea in Baltimore between 2013 and 2017, said she was fired because she consistently urged management to address maintenance problems and health hazards. Her principal worry was mold in the 139-unit Pangea Oaks apartment complex. She said both Reich and Dave Sonnenberg, a former regional manager at Pangea, told her not to cite mold in internal maintenance work orders.

“They kept saying it was dirt,” Kelley said. “They told me not to put mold on the paperwork, they told me to put dirt.”

John Naylor first moved into the Pangea Oaks complex in June of 2014. “I started noticing the mold a couple of months after,” he told the Reader in an interview, confirming that the company didn’t adequately deal with the problem. The Reader obtained a maintenance ticket Kelley had created regarding his basement-level unit that August. “Unit has black spots spreading up the wall in kitchen – was treated once and it is back,” Kelley wrote in the ticket.

Because he is paralyzed and uses a wheelchair he had to live in one of the ADA accessible basement units, Naylor explained. The mold “actually came through the drywall,” he recalled, adding that furniture and objects next to the apartment’s outer walls were also colonized by mold. “They painted over it and it came back through the paint.” (Multiple Chicago tenants interviewed during a Reader investigation of Pangea last year also said that the company painted over mold.)

Naylor said he asked Pangea to hire a qualified mold specialist to fully assess the severity of the issue but that to his knowledge the company never did that. He said Pangea’s maintenance staff ultimately determined that the only way to get rid of the mold would be to tear out the apartment walls. The company ended up moving him into a different basement apartment three doors down where he continued to have problems with mold in addition to sewage backups in the bathtub. “It seemed to be all of us that were down on the bottom floor [were dealing with the same problems],” Naylor said. He no longer rents from Pangea.

Kelley said she still knows tenants at Pangea’s Baltimore properties who she’d worked with as a leasing agent, and that some of them have been struggling with mold and flooding in their units for years. She said they couldn’t leave, however, because of the debt they’d accrued with the company.

When she was fired in 2017, Kelley said Reich flew in from Chicago to do it in person. She said that Hurford (whom she described as “very disrespectful to the tenants” but with whom she managed to have a functional working relationship) told her before the meeting that she was being let go. “I didn’t know I was going to get fired until that morning. [Hurford] sat down in front of me and said, ‘I’m sorry you’re leaving me, you’re one of my best and the reason they’re getting rid of you is because of your age.'” At the time, Kelley was 61. “After I was let go we kept in contact and she profusely apologized and said her hands were tied.”

As for Reich, Kelley said she felt that he viewed her and the other Black workers “like we was his slaves. We were to keep our mouth shut and do whatever he said. . . . When we started speaking out against Pangea that’s when they had problems with us.”

The anonymous current Chicago employee said the company takes advantage of both Black workers in neighborhoods where there aren’t many jobs, and Black tenants who don’t have a lot of affordable housing options. “I think they’re slumlords. They make money off minorities,” he said. “They built their whole business model of people who are poor and struggling . . . they know the tenants need them, not the other way around. That’s why they’re so quick to evict people. They own so much property in our neighborhoods and make so much money off of us.”

The former employee who also wished to remain anonymous added that the company scrimped on maintenance. He recalled an instance in which he asked Reich why the company preferred to patch problems like leaky roofs and plumbing instead of doing more extensive repairs. He said Reich responded: “‘It’s not worth it to fix it because [the tenants will] just fuck it up anyway.'”

Magana, too, confirmed that this was management’s attitude toward maintenance. Their priority, he said, was to spend as little money as possible from quarter to quarter. “Even before Pete used to be the CEO he would say, ‘We’d rather spend $200 patching the roof here and there than just spend $40,000 at once and fix it.’ So it was always patching, painting, Band-Aids.”

“They would joke about people being poor,” Robert Tucker, the former Baltimore property manager recalled about Reich and Hurford. Meanwhile, he said, tenants weren’t getting adequate service. “When a stove goes out they have to wait. If a refrigerator goes out and the food gets spoiled, Derek and Brenda don’t want to give people credit for the food.”

Torchenot, his former colleague, recalled an incident in which Hurford reprimanded him for handing out bottled drinking water to residents whose water was shut off due to burst pipes over the course of an entire weekend. “I thought if these people don’t have water to bathe they should at least have some water to drink. I distributed some water for them to drink but that didn’t sit right with Brenda,” he said.

Tucker said that Hurford’s way of relating with tenants put both her and other staff in danger. “If you’ve ever seen The Wire, these are the neighborhoods we worked in, I’m not exaggerating,” he said. “The Freddie Gray riots were birthed two blocks from one of our properties. . . . We had to stop tenants from, excuse my language, whooping [Hurford’s] ass because she would disrespect people. These are already people who are at the bottom. They’re at the bottom. And she would say things to people not realizing that we’re in the poorest part of the city. You don’t know what people went through today.”

“I remember one time [Hurford] flew off the handle with a resident and they was about to fight in the office, we had to step in between them,” Knox said. “It felt like [management] put our lives in jeopardy. We lived in the neighborhood and [tenants] would see us daily.” Kelley, who lived near one of Pangea’s apartment complexes, agreed. She said she was once personally threatened by a tenant and had her tires slashed. She chalked up the aggression to frustration with the company.

Several employees who spoke to the Reader said they themselves had tried to pursue legal remedies to the discrimination they felt they faced at Pangea through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or knew others who had. However, these agencies do not make records of filed complaints publicly available unless they file suit against employers—something that happens very rarely. EEOC lawsuits against employers are “usually a last resort after other outcomes are attempted,” explained spokeswoman Kimberly Smith-Brown in an e-mail. The agency has never sued Pangea and couldn’t confirm the existence of any complaints against the company.

Thomas Clay, a former Pangea maintenance regional manager in Indianapolis, said he’d filed an EEOC complaint after Pangea fired him in 2014. Even though he was a supervisor and one of the company’s first employees in Indianapolis, Clay said that he was getting a lower hourly wage than white and Latinx maintenance techs who were working under him. He said he didn’t have an attorney to help with the EEOC process and didn’t pursue further remedies after the agency, unable to reach one of his managers, dismissed his complaint.

“I was just glad to get out of there,” Clay said. “That job made me realize how much I was underpaid, how much I was being used. Because of my race I was being treated like that.”

Sources told the Reader that several women employees at Pangea in Chicago had made EEOC complaints regarding gender-based discrimination as well, but that these were settled privately and involved nondisclosure agreements.

“There was at one point in time all male zone leaders, all the office managers were female. Very few female property managers but a whole lot of female leasing agents, and to me that was very sexist,” said Christna Turner, who was a leasing agent in Pangea’s Chicago office between 2014 and 2016. She said she left the company because she was severely underpaid. She said that descriptions of Pangea’s corporate culture as a caste system “ring true.”

Reflecting on his time with the company, Clay said he felt Pangea had a good business model—buying run-down apartment buildings and complexes, fixing them up, leasing at an affordable price. “What they did for the city was a good idea,” he said, “but they took a good idea and messed it up by putting their buddies in . . . none of them was qualified to run this company.”

Magana echoed this sentiment. “Pangea was built on friendship—college guys and buddy-buddy stuff,” he said. “I don’t think Pete got the position because he knew what he was doing. I think he got it based on friendship. He’s very close with Derek, Derek grew up with [founder Al Goldstein]. [Former CEO Steve Joung] and Al were college buddies . . . they forget that we’re all getting salaries from our tenants.”

Magana is now in the process of filing amended complaints with the city and state to include the allegations of his “constructive discharge.” It could be months before the agencies complete their investigations, but Magana says he’s not worried about the long wait and has started to look for a new job.

In October, Pangea named him in a lawsuit alleging breach of noncompete and nonsolicitation clauses in his contract because, while still employed at the company, Magana and another former Pangea employee registered two LLCs with the state of Illinois for the purpose of construction work and pest management. Magana says they started these companies a few years ago when they thought they might lose their jobs at Pangea, but never actually did any business and weren’t competing with Pangea.

“I’m not nervous because I never did anything wrong,” he said. “We only opened [the LLCs], we never did anything with it.” Magana said he thinks the lawsuit is meant to scare him and dissuade other Pangea employees from bringing discrimination claims. “It was done to intimidate the other maintenance managers that were under me, because they did call them in [to a meeting] and tell them that they added me to the lawsuit.”

When he looks back on the last decade, Magana said it was hard for him to have to leave a company he helped build—a workplace to which, especially in the early years, he devoted tremendous time, often at the expense of his family.

“I started with Pangea and was being too loyal, and [my kids] basically grew up without me,” he said. Though he recalls putting in as many as 150 hours biweekly in some periods, and seven-day work weeks at $12 an hour, for years it felt like most of his colleagues and him were rowing in the same direction. He reminisced about generous “morale” budgets and the ability to reward and promote good workers. In the last few years, though, he said he came to understand that to the top management “I’m just another lazy guy running around.” Though he’d wanted to stay and fight for better conditions when he first started filing his complaints, now he says he’s relieved about leaving Pangea. “My life is getting back to normal, I’m more happy, stress free.”   v