Will Mat Ishbia run the Phoenix Suns like United Wholesale Mortgage?

By: ameer@trustedteam.com

Jason Schwebke spent nine months as a software developer at UWM before he was
let go from the company in May of 2020. Schwebke is deaf, and in January 2021 he filed a lawsuit against UWM, claiming the company did not accommodate his disability.

The case is still pending in Michigan federal court. In August 2021, Schwebke’s lawyer, Deborah Gordon, deposed Annamaria Tushaj, who then held the title of UWM senior benefits specialist.

Tushaj testified that, amid a workforce of thousands, she was the only human resources team member assigned to handle workplace accommodations.

Tushaj, who no longer works at UWM and did not respond to messages, said under oath that the only accommodation she ever approved on her own at UWM were “desk risers,” the device that lets one stand at their desk.

What about requests to work from home due to disability, the lawyer asked.

Tushaj replied there were no such formal requests, stating, “Everybody’s working in the building.”

Even during COVID?

“As far as our policy with regard to COVID and working from home, we are working in the office,” Tushaj said, according to the court transcript.

What about immunocompromised patients, Gordon asked.

“We are an in-person company. We do not work remote,” Tushaj answered.

Even as UWM grew, the company maintained a single office, first in Troy, Michigan and now in Pontiac, a city of 62,000 people 20 miles northwest of Detroit. Besides the discontinued eponymous cars, Pontiac is perhaps best known for the Silverdome, where the Detroit Lions NFL team and Detroit Pistons NBA franchise used to play. Demolished in 2018, the Silverdome site is today an Amazon distribution facility.

Pontiac is the county seat of Oakland County. In August 2020, the Oakland County Health Division issued an emergency order against UWM following complaints the company did not follow COVID health and safety protocols.

Records obtained from Oakland County show that the UWM employee complaints continued.

That seemed to pique Gordon’s curiosity.

Oakland County sent these complaints to the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It was a busy time for an agency that had been allocated a $30 million budget for the 2020 to 2021 fiscal year. Michigan OSHA received more workplace complaints between March 2020 and December 2021 than it received in the previous five years combined, an agency spokesperson said.

Michigan OSHA did four on-site inspections of UWM between 2020 and 2022, the spokesperson said, resulting in “two serious and one other-than-serious citation.”

Michigan OSHA proposed UWM pay a penalty of $9,800.

UWM’s statement did not answer questions about its COVID policies.

Overall, former employees painted a picture of a frenetic workplace, helmed on the sales side by account executives less than 10 years out of high school with UWM their first serious job.

“I was a college dropout. UWM provided a sense of purpose and culture,” one former account executive in their mid-20s recalled. “Everybody bonded over the stress.”

Said another ex-account executive in their late-20s. “When I was there, they had a t-shirt that said ‘never relax’ in all caps. They liked to push people to the edge.”

In March 2022, UWM settled for $2.75 million a lawsuit by a former account executive, Annie Haberlain, that she and her former colleagues worked stretches of time without pay. Haberlain, who declined to comment, alleged that while she clocked in at 10:00 a.m., she was required to attend work by 8 in the morning for a “Dominate at Eight” pep talk.

Haberlain’s other allegations included a UWM program “Weekend Plays,” where account executives had to send 12 text messages to potential clients over the weekend, and screenshot the texts to their supervisor. They were allegedly not paid for this work.

Schwebke and Haberlain are part of an unknown number of workers who lasted less than one year at UWM.

The company reported “more than 8,600 team members” at the end of 2020, but just “approximately 6,000 team members” on Dec. 31, 2022.

A 30% attrition rate over two years is common in the cyclical world of mortgage. Not common is UWM’s claim to have never laid anyone off in the company’s 37-year history.

One former employee said that UWM gets around the no layoff policy by “just fricking firing people, for things like clocking in a minute late.”

The no-layoff policy has other practical outcomes. One is that UWM did not report mass layoffs under federal and state Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN laws, which meant that they did not have to plan attritions in advance. Also, unlike laid off employees, those who quit or are fired cannot apply for unemployment benefits under Michigan law.

UWM’s statement did not address employment policies. A spokesperson told National Mortgage Professional in March, “Through natural attrition, for various reasons – relocation, a family commitment, new opportunity, etc. – our team member count has balanced out.”

Related post