Justice Department Obtains $1.25 Million Settlement from Oklahoma City Landlords to Resolve Claims of Sexual Harassment Against Female Tenants
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma have reached a $1.25 million agreement with defendants Rosemarie Pelfrey, Omega Enterprises LLC and Pelfrey Investment Company Inc. to resolve a Fair Housing Act lawsuit alleging that their agent, Walter Ray Pelfrey (Pelfrey), sexually harassed female tenants and prospective tenants while owning or managing dozens of Oklahoma City – area rental properties. Pelfrey died in 2018.
Under the terms of the consent order, which was approved this week by the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, the defendants will pay $1.2 million in damages to female tenants and prospective tenants harmed by Pelfrey’s harassment and a $50,000 civil penalty to the United States.
“This settlement, which came after protracted litigation, sends a clear message that the Justice Department will not tolerate sexual harassment,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division. “No one should ever have to endure what the women in this case were subjected to.”
“For nearly 20 years, more than 40 female tenants and prospective tenants endured abhorrent sexual harassment when all they wanted was a safe place to call home,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Robert J. Troester for the Western District of Oklahoma. “Tenants have the right under federal fair housing laws to be free from unwanted sexual harassment in order to obtain or maintain housing. The magnitude of this settlement and consent order demonstrates that the Justice Department will neither tolerate this type of discrimination from abusers nor ignore the vulnerable victims who suffer this abuse.”
The United States’ lawsuit alleged that Pelfrey’s harassment spanned a period of almost 20 years, through at least 2017, and included demanding that prospective tenants engage in sexual acts to obtain housing, offering to reduce rent and overlooking unpaid rent in exchange for sexual intercourse or contact, evicting and threatening to evict female tenants for refusing his sexual advances, groping and grabbing female tenants’ breasts, buttocks, and genitals, making unwelcome sexual advances and comments, and entering the homes of female tenants unannounced and without their consent to further these advances. The defendants — Rosemarie Pelfrey, in her capacity as trustee of two named trusts and as personal representative of Pelfrey’s estate, Omega Enterprises LLC and Pelfrey Investment Company Inc. — were named in the lawsuit because they owned the properties at which the discriminatory conduct took place, and are therefore vicariously liable for their agent Pelfrey’s harassment. Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants must provide Fair Housing Act training for their employees, provide a complaint procedure to tenants and release judgments obtained against victims whom Pelfrey wrongfully evicted.
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 goal of the department’s initiative is to address and raise awareness about sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers or other people who have control over housing. Since launching the initiative in Oct. 2017, the Department of Justice has filed 21 lawsuits alleging sexual harassment in housing and recovered over $3.8 million for victims of such harassment.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division enforces the Fair Housing Act, which 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 may report sexual harassment or other forms of housing discrimination by calling the Justice Department’s Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, emailing the Justice Department at email@example.com or submitting a report online. Individuals may also report such discrimination by contacting HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or by filing a complaint online.