DOJ Announces Initiative to Combat Sexual Harassment in Housing

The Justice Department recently announced a new initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing. The initiative specifically seeks to increase the department’s efforts to protect women from harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, security guards, and other employees and representatives of rental property owners. As part of the initiative, the department will work to identify barriers to reporting sexual harassment to the department and other enforcement agencies, and will collaborate with local law enforcement, legal services providers, and public housing authorities to leverage their expertise.

The department’s Civil Rights Division enforces the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited under this law. The Civil Rights Division plans to launch a pilot of the initiative in Washington, D.C., and western Virginia, where it is working with legal service providers and local law enforcement to raise awareness about this issue. The department hopes to expand the effort to other areas of the country in the near future.

The announcement comes on the heels of the department’s successful resolution of two sexual harassment cases in Kansas City, Kan., and Grand Rapids, Mich. In the Kansas City case, the department recovered $360,000 for 14 female residents and applicants of a housing authority who were subjected to unwanted sexual conduct. In its complaint, the department alleged that an employee of the housing authority subjected women to unwanted sexual conduct as a condition for favorable hearing decisions, including asking them sexual questions, showing pornographic pictures and videos, making explicit sexual comments, and exposing himself.

In the Michigan case, the owner and manager of private rental housing agreed to a $150,000 settlement to resolve allegations of sexual harassment against female residents and applicants, including making unwelcome sexual comments and advances towards them, engaging in unwanted sexual touching, offering housing benefits in exchange for sex acts, and taking or threatening to take adverse housing actions against women who objected to his harassment.

“No woman should be made to feel unsafe in her own home,” Acting Assistant Attorney General John M. Gore, of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “The Justice Department is committed to vigorously enforcing the Fair Housing Act’s ban on sexual harassment and is looking forward to working closely with state and local partners to combat this problem.”