Last week the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint against a West Virginia apartment owner asserting that multiple female residents were subjected to egregious sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
Filed in U.S. District Court in West Virginia, the DOJ claims that a residential apartment owner engaged in unwanted groping and unwelcome sexual acts with female residents, that he made inappropriate physical contact as well as various verbal advances. Furthermore, the complaint asserts that the owner offered tangible housing benefits to female residents in exchange for the performance of sex acts on the owner or his maintenance staff. Next, the DOJ claims that the owner and maintenance personnel also entered the apartments of female residents without permission and with the intent to harass or annoy them sexually. Finally, the DOJ claims the owner took adverse actions against female residents when they objected or refused his sexual advances and in that a now deceased co-owner failed to take appropriate corrective actions when residents complained of this behavior.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages to compensate the victims, civil money penalties, and a court order barring future discrimination. Now, this is only a complaint and nothing has yet been proven. Nevertheless, as apartment management professionals we need to do our best to train our employees to follow the FHA and other laws prohibiting sexual misconduct in our industry – and an important part of that is to follow up when issues such as these are raised by residents and/or employees. While there are always two sides to every story, when allegations like these are raised (particularly if they look and sound egregious) it is certainly time to speak with a lawyer like me to review the facts and undertake a comprehensive investigation.
Just A Thought.