Property Owner, Manager Must Pay $82,500 Penalty in Sex Harassment Case
March 2011: A federal court recently ordered a Michigan property owner and his former manager to pay a total of $82,500 in civil penalties—on top of the $115,000 jury verdict previously awarded—in a sexual harassment case under the Fair Housing Act, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In its decision, the court noted that the manager repeatedly sexually harassed six female residents and that his behavior “was egregious and interfered with the women’s peaceful enjoyment of their homes, which should have been the one place where they could turn for refuge.” The court also observed that the owner had not taken any corrective action after two residents complained to him about the manager. The court said that the owner’s conduct was “troubling inasmuch as he was willfully impervious to the complaints from two of his tenants. At the very least, their troubling comments should have put him on notice that he should have given closer attention to [the manager’s] supervisory control over his tenants.”
After a trial last summer, the jury awarded $115,000 in damages to six victims of the harassment. Following the verdict, the Justice Department asked the court to order civil penalties and issue an injunction to prevent future violations by the defendants. While damages for victims are awarded by a jury, civil penalties and injunctions must be ordered by the court.
Earlier this month, the court ordered the manager to pay a $55,000 civil penalty—the maximum civil penalty for a first violation of the Fair Housing Act—and permanently barred him from having any further involvement in the management, rental, or maintenance of housing. The court also ordered the owner to pay a $27,500 penalty and to implement a comprehensive sexual harassment policy and complaint procedure at his properties.
“This decision makes clear that property owners can be held accountable for sexual harassment carried out by their rental agents,” Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “It is disturbing that some landlords will take advantage of vulnerable women and force them to choose between a roof over their heads or being sexually harassed. It is even more troubling when the harasser is enabled by a property owner who hands him the keys and looks the other way. Rental property owners must establish clear policies against sexual harassment, provide an avenue for tenants to make complaints directly to them, and take those complaints seriously.”
Source: U.S. Department of Justice