In what is believed to be the largest recovery ever under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), last week the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a settlement with the owners and former manager of an apartment building located in New York City. The DOJ’s lawsuit contended that the defendants violated the FHA by discriminating on the basis of sex and subjecting numerous female tenants to severe, unwelcome, and pervasive sexual harassment. Under the terms of the agreement, the defendants will pay more than $2 million to the tenants who were alleged to have been the victims of the harassment. Furthermore, the defendants will pay $55,000 in civil penalties, the maximum penalty available under the FHA.
The DOJ alleged that the owners hired a register sex offender to serve as the superintendent of the building and that the superintendent sexually harassed female residents. With respect to specifics of the misconduct, let’s just report that the alleged conduct was unwelcome and not appropriate for a family blog. Additionally, the manager of the building was further alleged to have created a hostile environment and the owner was aware and did nothing to stop the offensive actions against the female residents.
In addition to the financial penalty, there were other prohibitions and training requirements put in place to help ensure this conduct is not repeated.
While this case reflects severe conduct, it is a useful reminder that a good business practice is to ensure that all of our management, leasing office and maintenance employees go through a background check prior to being hired. Also, document and follow up on complaints from residents. Being proactive in hiring is one way to help avoid really needing a lawyer like me.
Just A Thought.