W.Va. Landlords Pay $600K to Settle Sexual Harassment Case

The Justice Department recently announced a $600,000 settlement in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the owners and former managers of more than 70 residential rental properties in West Virginia.

The department’s lawsuit alleged that the properties were owned by a married couple and that the husband, while serving as the manager of the properties, subjected female prospects and residents to egregious sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of fair housing law. In 2015, the husband pleaded guilty to sexual abuse and other charges and was incarcerated for two years in state prison for those offenses. The wife has since died.

The lawsuit alleged that the husband sexually harassed multiple female prospects and residents from at least 2006 until he was incarcerated. According to the complaint, the husband engaged in unwanted and unwelcome sex acts with female residents, including touching and groping their breasts and genitals; conditioned tangible housing benefits to female residents in exchange for performance of sex acts; made unwanted and unwelcome sexual comments and verbal sexual advances; entered the homes of female residents without permission or notice to sexually harass them; and took or threatened to take adverse action against female residents when they refused or objected to his sexual advances.

The department’s lawsuit named the husband, the estate of his late wife, and business entities associated with the couple’s property ownership and management business. The defendants disputed liability, but agreed to the settlement requiring payment of $500,000 to persons harmed by the allegedly discriminatory conduct and $100,000 in civil penalties. The husband was banned from engaging in any property management, rental management, or maintenance responsibilities at the rental properties, and from entering the premises or having any contact with current or former residents of the rental properties.

“It is unacceptable that a woman should have to endure sexual harassment by her landlord in her own home,” according to a statement by Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This settlement sends a strong message that the Civil Rights Division will aggressively pursue those who engage in this egregious conduct.”

Fair housing law prohibits a broad range of discriminatory practices based on sex, including sexual harassment, which can cost thousands—and in some cases, millions—in settlements or court awards, civil penalties, and attorney’s fees, not to mention lasting damage to the reputation of the community, management, and individuals involved. For more information, see “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (Discrimination)… But Were Afraid to Ask,” available to our subscribers here.