The Justice Department filed a lawsuit today against Fred Wheeler, of Manchester, Maine, for sexually harassing female tenants and housing applicants in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Wheeler has managed residential rental properties in Lewiston, Maine, and other central Maine municipalities since at least 2016.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, alleges that since at least 2016, Wheeler subjected female tenants to unwelcome sexual contact and comments about their physical appearances; entered rental units without consent; conditioned a tenant’s rental agreement on a romantic relationship; and offered to forgive unpaid rent in exchange for sex acts. The lawsuit also names Landscape Center of Maine Inc., the property owner, as a defendant.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages to compensate persons harmed by the alleged harassment, civil penalties to vindicate the public interest and a court order barring future discrimination.
“No one should live in fear in their home because of their landlord’s sexual harassment and predatory conduct,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “No one should be denied access to housing because of their refusal to accept a landlord’s sexual demands. The Justice Department stands ready to hold accountable any landlord who preys upon vulnerable tenants and those seeking housing.”
“I urge any other tenants alleging discrimination by Mr. Wheeler to contact my office,” said U.S. Attorney Darcie N. McElwee for the District of Maine. “A home should be a sanctuary. No one should be subjected to sexual harassment under any conditions, but particularly not by the person responsible for providing safe and secure housing. The Justice Department and my office will hold accountable any property owners who engage in sexual harassment and will enforce fair housing laws designed to protect against this and other discriminatory conduct.”
The FHA prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. It also prohibits sexual harassment, a form of sex discrimination. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of sexual harassment or other types of housing discrimination at rental properties owned or managed by Fred Wheeler, or who have other information that may be relevant to this case, may contact the Justice Department by calling the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maine at 207-780-3257 or emailing USAME.Fairhousing@usdoj.gov.
The Justice Department’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative is led by the Civil Rights Division, in coordination with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country. The initiative seeks to address and raise awareness about sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers and other people who have control over housing. Since launching the initiative in October 2017, the department has filed 37 lawsuits alleging sexual harassment in housing and recovered over $10.8 million for victims of such harassment. The Civil Rights Division is committed to protecting people from sexual misconduct.