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Civil Rights Prosecutions: Fair Housing

Combating Sexual Harassment in Housing
by Barbara L. McQuade, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan

Barbara L. McQuade, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Choosing where to live is among the most important decisions we make. The location of our homes influences our access to schools, transportation, jobs, and public safety. That’s why enforcing the Fair Housing Act is so vitally important.

The Fair Housing Act guarantees that we cannot be denied housing based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, or disability. Landlords or property owners may not refuse to rent apartments or sell homes to individuals on these bases.

Regrettably, violations of the Fair Housing Act occur all too frequently. At the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, we have brought cases in the past year for violations in which individuals were denied housing based on race, familial status, disability and sex. Partnering with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, our lawyers have obtained money judgments and injunctive relief for individuals who suffered discrimination in their right to choose where to live.

One case in particular stands out as an egregious violation of the Fair Housing Act. In United States v. Johnson, the United States prevailed at a jury trial by proving a pattern or practice of sexual harassment of female tenants at single family dwellings in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages to six victims totaling $115,000 against the property manager, the property owner and his company.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleged that the property manager, Glenn Johnson, subjected female tenants to discrimination on the basis of sex, including severe, pervasive, and unwelcome sexual harassment, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The complaint also alleged that Ronnie Peterson and First Pitch Properties, LLC, the owners of the properties, were liable for Johnson’s discriminatory conduct.

At the time of the verdict, Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, said “Today’s jury verdict reminds landlords and rental agents that tenants should never be subjected to sexual harassment and that the Justice Department will vigorously fight to protect tenants from illegal discrimination.”

The jury heard testimony for nearly a week regarding the sexual harassment of the six women. The victims testified that the property manager made unwanted verbal and physical sexual advances, entered their homes without permission or notice, and withheld repairs and keys in order to coerce sexual favors. With children to support on modest incomes, the plaintiffs were particularly vulnerable because their housing options were limited. Witnesses for the United States also testified that the property owner knew of the manager’s discriminatory conduct, but did nothing to stop the harassment.

Fighting illegal discrimination in housing is a top priority of the Justice Department. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at their website. Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination or have information related to this lawsuit can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov, or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, alongside the Civil Rights Division, will continue to aggressively combat illegal housing discrimination, so that we may all enjoy the right to choose where we live.


Achievements in Courtrooms Nationwide

United States v. Beck
District of Minnesota

In this case, the United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota sued two individuals who own and rent several duplexes in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. In its complaint, the United States alleged that the owners violated the Fair Housing Act when they refused to show a duplex to an African American woman seeking to rent it. Initially when the African American women telephoned about the rental unit, the owner said it was still for rent and scheduled a time to show it to the women. Upon meeting the woman outside the duplex, the owner stated: "No way. No way. It's not for rent. I can't do this. I'm not renting to these kind of people." The owner then drove away without showing the house to the woman. The owner eventually rented the duplex to a white male. After commencing suit in federal court, the United States successfully negotiated a consent decree in February 2011 that requires the defendants to undergo comprehensive Fair Housing Act training, change their advertising and policies, and pay the African American woman $25,500 in damages. More information can be found in the press release.

United States v. Loki Properties
District of Minnesota

In 2010, the United States Attorney's Office in Minnesota commenced suit against a rental company in Red Wing, Minnesota, for race discrimination in the rental of housing when the company refused to rent to an African-American man. Initially the rental company told the African American man that it could not rent to him because the unit was still being renovated. Shortly thereafter, however, the rental company rented the unit to a white woman. When the African American man expressed interest in another apartment, the rental company stated that it could not rent to him because he had arrests (but no convictions) on his record. The rental company had a policy of allowing prospective tenants to explain any criminal record in their background, but in the case of the African American man the company did not allow him to discuss the facts of his arrest record. Following the refusal to rent to him, the rental company approved the rental of a unit to a white man who had four felony convictions on his record, allegedly stating to the white tenant that "everyone deserves a second chance." After suing the rental company, the United States Attorney's Office successfully negotiated a consent decree in June 2011 that requires the rental company to undergo fair housing training, change its policies and procedures, and advertise as a fair housing landlord. As part of the consent decree issued by the court, the rental company paid the African American man $15,000 in damages.

Consent Order Entered in Fair Housing Act Case Alleging Discrimination Based Upon Familial Status
Eastern District of Michigan

United States v. Tel-Clinton Trailer Courts, Inc. On July 13, 2011, the court entered a consent order requiring the owner and manager of a mobile home development in Monroe, Michigan to pay a $7,500 civil penalty and to create a $20,000 fund to compensate victims of discrimination based upon familial status.  In addition, the defendants agreed to revise their policy to prohibit discrimination against families with children, to conduct training, and to maintain records to show their compliance with the order.  This case was handled jointly by attorneys at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Housing Section of the Civil Rights Division.