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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Justice Department Files Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Owners and Managers of New York Rental Properties

The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that Douglas S. Waterbury, a residential property owner and landlord in the Oswego, New York, area subjected female tenants and potential tenants to egregious sexual harassment in violation of the Fair Housing Act.  Along with Douglas Waterbury, the Department’s complaint names his wife and business partner, Carol A. Waterbury, and two residential property companies, Ontario Realty Inc. and E&A Management Co., as defendants. 

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, alleges that since at least 1990, Douglas Waterbury has sexually harassed numerous women who have lived in or inquired about the defendants’ residential rental properties.  The suit alleges that Waterbury’s conduct has included demanding or pressuring female tenants and potential tenants to engage in sex acts with him in order to obtain or keep rental housing; subjecting female tenants and potential tenants to unwelcome sexual contact and groping; offering to grant tangible housing benefits, such as reduced rent or deposit payments, in exchange for sex acts; refusing needed maintenance services or otherwise taking adverse housing actions against female tenants who refused his harassment; and making unwelcome sexual comments and advances.  The conduct alleged in this complaint is egregious, ranging from demands to exchange sex for rent, to unwanted sexual encounters.

“Subjecting tenants and those looking for housing to harassment and demands for sex is unacceptable,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “Combatting sexual harassment in housing is among the Department’s top priorities.  As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act this month, the Civil Rights Division stresses its commitment to tackling this scourge, which strikes at the heart of access to fair housing, free from harassment and other forms of illegal discrimination.”

“The complaint alleges severe, pervasive sexual harassment, including pressure to engage in sexual activity to obtain or keep rental housing and unwelcome sexual contact with actual and prospective female tenants,” said Grant C. Jaquith, United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York. “We are committed to the full and fair application of the Fair Housing Act to give meaning to its protection of renters from unlawful discrimination.  Housing cannot be conditioned on submission to sexual harassment.”

In October, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced the Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative. The initiative specifically seeks to increase the Department’s efforts to protect individuals from harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, security guards, and other employees and representatives of rental property owners.

The Justice Department has filed or settled nine sexual harassment cases and has recovered over $1.6 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing since Jan. 20, 2017.

Today’s lawsuit seeks monetary damages to compensate the victims, civil penalties, and a court order barring future discrimination.  The complaint contains allegations of unlawful conduct.  The allegations must be proven in federal court.

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 http://www.justice.gov/crt.  Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of sexual harassment or other types of housing discrimination at rental dwellings owned or operated by Douglas Waterbury, Carol Waterbury, Ontario Realty Inc., or E&A Management Co., or who have other information that may be relevant to this case, can contact the Housing Discrimination Tip Line, by calling 1-800-896-7743, pressing 1 to continue in English, and selecting mailbox 92 to leave a message.

Individuals can also report sexual harassment and other forms of housing discrimination by calling the phone number above and leaving a message in the general mailbox, or by e-mailing the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov.

Updated April 11, 2018