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HUD settles three separate sexual harassment lawsuits

05/01/2018

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The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today that it’s reached settlements with three separate landlords over claims of sexual harassment — a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

“Landlords are required to comply with the Fair Housing Act, the federal law that has banned housing discrimination for the last 50 years,” said Anna Maria Farias, HUD assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, in a statement. “It’s against the law to harass residents of housing because of sex, disability or any other protected characteristic. The settlements we are announcing today reflect HUD’s commitment to rooting out sexual harassment and all housing discrimination as we know it.”

The Fair Housing Act — title VII of the landmark 1968 Civil Rights Act — makes it illegal to discriminate against any individual based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status or disability. Sexual harassment falls under the umbrella of illegal discrimination based on sex.

A female tenant of a Jacksonville, Florida, public housing authority residence reported that she was sexually harassed on multiple occasions by an employee of the housing complex. The alleged harassment included unwelcome sexual comments, request for sex and sexual favors and threats of eviction if the tenant did not submit to such requests, according to HUD.

The housing authority at the center of the complaint agreed to pay the resident $75,000 as well as a adopt a new sexual harassment policy and require staff to attend fair housing training, as part of the settlement agreement.

HUD entered a conciliation agreement in Virginia to resolve allegations that an independent living facility failed to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of a female tenant by another tenant, according to the agency.

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The female tenant reported that a male tenant harassed her with unwelcome and unsolicited advances, made suggestive comments, whistled at her and followed her around the apartment complex, according to the complaint. The facility agreed to pay the complainant $37,500 and adopt a new sexual harassment policy.

HUD also entered into a conciliation agreement in California to resolve allegations that a landlord repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances toward a male tenant with a mental disability. The landlord allegedly evicted the tenant for refusing the advances. As a result of the agreement, the landlord agreed to pay the tenant $12,000 and attend fair housing training.

April marked the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Fair Housing Act, and HUD announced, last month, a joint campaign with the United States Justice Department to address sexual harassment in housing through the creation of an interagency task force to combat sexual harassment, an outreach toolkit and a public awareness campaign.

HUD has also pondered removing anti-discrimination language from its mission statement, a consideration which drew backlash from the real estate industry.

Some in the real estate industry also believe the Fair Housing Act doesn’t go far enough to address discrimination. The National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals is among the many groups calling on Congress to amend the Civil Rights Act to include protections for individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Email Patrick Kearns

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