WASHINGTON – A federal court in Detroit has ordered Ypsilanti, Mich., property owner and Washtenaw County Commissioner Ronnie Peterson, and his former manager Glen E. Johnson to pay a total of $82,500 in civil penalties in a sexual harassment case, the Justice Department announced today. The civil penalty is in addition to the $115,000 jury verdict obtained by the department on behalf of six victims of the sexual harassment in August 2010.
“This decision makes clear that property owners can be held accountable for sexual harassment carried out by their rental agents,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division “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.”
“This order ensures that Mr. Johnson will never again be in a position to prey on tenants who desperately need housing, not harassment,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara McQuade. “It also serves as a warning to other landlords that they will be held accountable if they engage in or enable others to engage in egregious sexual harassment.”
The order, issued yesterday afternoon by Judge Julian Abele Cook Jr., requires Johnson to pay a $55,000 civil penalty, the maximum civil penalty for a first violation of the Fair Housing Act, and orders Peterson to pay a $27,500 penalty. The order also permanently bars Johnson from having any further involvement in the management, rental or maintenance of housing. The order requires Peterson to adopt and implement a comprehensive sexual harassment policy and complaint procedure at his properties.
In its decision, the court noted that Johnson repeatedly sexually harassed six women tenants 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 noted that Peterson had not taken any corrective action after two of his tenants complained to him about Johnson’s contact. The court noted that Peterson’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 Johnson’s supervisory control over his tenants.”
Yesterday’s order is the culmination of a successful civil prosecution against Johnson and Peterson carried out jointly by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the Civil Rights Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan. Department attorneys obtained a $115,000 jury verdict against Johnson and Peterson on Aug. 6, 2010, after a six day trial. That verdict required Johnson and Peterson to pay monetary damages to six victims of the harassment. After the verdict, the 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.
Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt .
Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at email@example.com or contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.