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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Justice Department Files Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Owners of Oklahoma City Rental Properties

The Justice Department today announced that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that female tenants and applicants in residential rental properties in or around Oklahoma City were subjected to sexual harassment, coercion, intimidation, and threats in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act. The complaint names four defendants: the Executor of the Estate of Walter Ray Pelfrey; Rosemarie Pelfrey, as Trustee of the W. Ray Pelfrey Revocable Trust and the Rosemarie Pelfrey Revocable Trust; Omega Enterprises, LLC; and Pelfrey Investment Company, LLC.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, alleges that Walter Ray Pelfrey sexually harassed female tenants and applicants of rental properties from at least 2001 through 2017. According to the complaint, he engaged in harassment that included, among other things, making unwelcome sexual advances and comments, engaging in unwanted sexual touching, demanding or pressuring female applicants to engage in sexual acts to obtain rental housing, offering to reduce rent and overlooking or excusing late or unpaid rent in exchange for sex, evicting or threatening to evict female tenants who objected to or refused sexual advances, and entering the homes of female tenants without their consent. The lawsuit further alleges that, upon the death of Walter Ray Pelfrey on July 15, the Estate of Walter Ray Pelfrey assumed liability for discriminatory housing practices. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Rosemarie Pelfrey in her role as trustee, Omega Enterprises, LLC, and Pelfrey Investment Company, LLC are liable under the Fair Housing Act because Walter Ray Pelfrey managed the rental properties on their behalf when he engaged in the harassment, coercion, intimidation, and threats.

“Female tenants should not be subjected to illegal harassment and demands for sex,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore. “The Justice Department will continue to enforce the Fair Housing Act against landlords who engage in this misconduct and cause women to feel unsafe in their own homes.”

“Tenants have the right to be free from unwanted sexual harassment and intimidation by their landlord under the federal Fair Housing Act,” said Robert J. Troester of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma. “Today’s civil complaint represents a significant step toward achieving justice and compensation for vulnerable victims of civil rights violations.”

In October 2017, the Justice Department launched an initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing. In April 2018, the Department announced the nationwide rollout of the initiative, including three major components: a new joint Task Force with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to combat sexual harassment in housing, an outreach toolkit to leverage the Department’s nationwide network of U.S. Attorney’s Offices, and a public awareness campaign, including the launch of a national Public Service Announcement.

Since launching the initiative, the Justice Department has filed six lawsuits alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing – more than it has filed in any previous fiscal year. The Justice Department has filed or settled 11 sexual harassment cases since January 2017, and has recovered over $1.6 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing.

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 previously owned or operated by Walter Pelfrey, or who have other information that may be relevant to this case, can contact the Housing Discrimination Tip Line:

  • English language: Call 1-800-896-7743, then press 1 to continue in English and select mailbox 991 to leave a message; or
  • Spanish language: Call 1-800-896-7743, then press 2 to continue in Spanish and select mailbox 9 to leave a message.

Individuals can also report sexual harassment and other forms of housing discrimination by e-mailing the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov

Updated September 27, 2018