LaFHAC Settles Sexual Harassment Complaint Against Westwego Apartment Owner

By: Jodi D. Hill, Staff Attorney

On May 24, 2023, LaFHAC settled a sexual harassment matter against housing provider HHF Beechgrove II, LLC (“HHF”). 

Ms. Smith* alleged that she experienced sexual harassment at HHF’s Cypress Cove Apartments, located at 945 Beechgrove Boulevard in Westwego, Louisiana. Ms. Smith alleged that HHF’s maintenance employee repeatedly harassed her by entering her unit unannounced and by using forcible physical sexual conduct. 

Ms. Smith alleged that she reported the harassment to the front desk agent and that while she reported the incidents, the maintenance employee was permitted to remain in the office with a firearm. Ms. Smith further alleged that the maintenance employee remained employed by HHF after she reported the incident. 

The settlement requires HHF to pay $25,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees. HHF must also implement and adhere to a written non-discrimination policy. HHF must present the written policy to all current and new employees for signature. Finally, all HHF employees who manage and operate its residential rental properties must undergo fair housing training by the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center.

Sexual harassment remains common in residential renting. Even a simple maintenance request can put tenants at risk of sexual harassment from housing providers and their employees. An unequal power dynamic exists in the landlord-tenant relationship, making sexual harassment often unreported and severely unchallenged. The federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) prohibits retaliation for reporting housing discrimination, but the risk of retaliation for reporting a housing provider is a concern for renters. Retaliation can severely impact a tenant’s well-being and future housing stability. 

The FHA recognizes two forms of sexual harassment: Quid Pro Quo Harassment and Hostile Environment Harassment. Quid Pro Quo Harassment is an unwelcome request or demand to engage in sexual conduct as a condition of accessing or maintaining housing. A housing provider threatening to evict a tenant unless they have sex with them has subjected them to quid pro quo harassment. A housing provider who refuses to repair a tenant’s air conditioning because the tenant refuses to have sex with them has subjected the tenant to quid pro quo harassment. 

Hostile Environment Harassment is harassment that is so severe or pervasive that it interferes with a person’s ability to access and live in housing. A housing provider who forcibly touches a tenant after making maintenance repairs has subjected a tenant to hostile environment harassment. Beliveau v. Caras, 873 F. Supp. 1393 (C.D. Cal. 1995). 

A few recently filed cases show the current threat of sexual harassment in residential renting. 

On August 28, 2023, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in California against an owner, manager, and maintenance employee, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation under the FHA. Among other violations alleged, the complaint alleged that the Defendants refused to fix a leaking gas line after the tenant reported the alleged harassment and threatened to contact a lawyer. In United States v. Woodcock, the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania entered a consent order permanently prohibiting a property owner from performing any property management responsibilities. The complaint alleged that the property owner, Allen Woodcock, sexually harassed a female tenant while he completed maintenance repairs. 

The fight against sexual harassment in housing is critical in the Fair Housing movement. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment in housing, please call LaFHAC at (504)-596-2100 for free and confidential help.  

*Name changed to protect our client’s privacy.

Posted by Malcolm Phillipson 10/02/2023and categorized as Blog, Press Releases, Uncategorized