DOJ Sues Oklahoma Property Owners for Sexual Harassment

The Justice Department recently filed a lawsuit alleging that female applicants and residents of residential rental properties in or around Oklahoma City were subjected to sexual harassment, coercion, intimidation, and threats in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

The lawsuit claims that the former manager of the properties sexually harassed female applicants and residents from at least 2001 until his death in 2017. Among other things, the complaint alleges that the manager made unwelcome sexual advances and comments, engaged in unwanted sexual touching, demanded or pressured female applicants to engage in sexual acts to obtain rental housing, offered to reduce rent and overlook or excuse late or unpaid rent in exchange for sex, evicted or threatened to evict female residents who objected to or refused sexual advances, and entered the homes of female residents without their consent.

The lawsuit claims that upon the manager’s death his estate assumed liability for discriminatory housing practices. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the manager’s wife, in her role as trustee, and related companies are liable under the Fair Housing Act because he managed the rental properties on their behalf when he engaged in the harassment, coercion, intimidation, and threats.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages to compensate the victims, civil penalties, and a court order barring future discrimination. The complaint contains allegations of unlawful conduct that must be proven in federal court.

“Female tenants should not be subjected to illegal harassment and demands for sex,” Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore said in a statement. “The Justice Department will continue to enforce the Fair Housing Act against landlords who engage in this misconduct and cause women to feel unsafe in their own homes.”

In October 2017, the Justice Department launched an initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing. Earlier this year, the Department announced the nationwide rollout of the initiative, including a new joint Task Force with HUD to combat sexual harassment in housing, an outreach toolkit to leverage the Department’s nationwide network of U.S. Attorney’s Offices, and a public awareness campaign.

Since launching the initiative, the Justice Department has filed six lawsuits alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing—more than it has filed in any previous fiscal year. The Justice Department has filed or settled 11 sexual harassment cases since January 2017 and has recovered over $1.6 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing.