The Justice Department today announced that Rawland Leon Sorensen, the owner and manager of dozens of residential rental properties in Bakersfield, Calif., will be obligated to pay more than $2 million in monetary damages and civil penalties to settle a Fair Housing Act lawsuit alleging that he sexually harassed women tenants and prospective tenants.
The department’s complaint alleges that Sorensen sexually harassed the women by making unwelcome sexual comments and advances, exposing his genitals to women tenants, touching women without their consent, granting and denying housing benefits based on sex and taking adverse actions against women who refused his sexual advances. Sorensen has operated his rental business for more than 30 years. This represents the largest monetary settlement ever agreed to in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the Justice Department under the Fair Housing Act.
The consent decree, which is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court, will result in a judgment against Sorensen requiring him to pay $2,075,000 in monetary damages to 25 individuals identified by the United States as victims of his discriminatory conduct. That amount includes court costs and attorneys’ fees for two of the victims who are private plaintiffs. In addition, Sorensen must also pay a $55,000 civil penalty to the United States, the maximum penalty available under the Fair Housing Act. The consent decree requires Sorensen to hire an independent manager to manage his rental properties and imposes strict limits on his ability to have contact with current and future tenants.
“The conduct in this case was egregious,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Women have the right to feel safe in their homes and not to be subjected to sexual harassment just because their families need housing. The Justice Department can and will vigorously prosecute landlords who violate those rights.”
“The Eastern District of California is committed to enforcing the civil rights of all persons in the District,” said Benjamin B. Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California. “This case involved a course of conduct that spanned several years and affected many vulnerable persons. The decree sends a strong message to property owners that discrimination will not be tolerated.”
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, email the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.