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Friday, September 29, 2017

Justice Department Obtains $365,000 Settlement of Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Kansas City, Kansas, Housing Authority

The Justice Department today announced that the Kansas City, Kansas, Housing Authority (KCKHA) and three of its former employees have agreed to pay $365,000 to resolve a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the department in 2015.  So far this year, the Justice Department has filed or settled four cases alleging unlawful sexual harassment of women in housing.  

Under the settlement, KCKHA, former Administrative Coordinator Victor Hernandez, former Property Manager Derrick Estelle, Sr., and former Director of Housing Management Ronald Cobb, will pay a total of $360,000 in monetary damages to 14 current and former KCKHA residents and applicants who were subjected to sexual harassment, as well as $5,000 to the United States in civil penalties.  The settlement also requires KCKHA to conduct training, to adopt new policies and procedures to prevent sexual harassment by its employees, and to provide a mechanism by which tenants and applicants can register complaints about sexual harassment with KCKHA management.   

 

“Sexual harassment of women is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John M. Gore of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “No one should ever have to endure the type of outrageous conduct that occurred in this case in exchange for obtaining or keeping a place to live.”

 

“No woman should be subjected to harassment in her own home. This action sends a message to all housing providers that not only is this type of behavior unacceptable and immoral, it is illegal,” said HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Anna Maria Farías. “HUD will continue to work to protect the fair housing rights of victims of harassment.”

 

This matter began when two female public housing tenants filed complaints about Hernandez with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  After HUD investigated the complaints, it issued a charge of discrimination and the matter was referred to the Justice Department. During its investigation, the department identified additional KCKHA applicants and tenants who had been sexually harassed by Hernandez, Estelle, or Cobb.   Among other things, the department’s complaint alleged that Hernandez subjected women to unwanted sexual conduct as a condition for favorable hearing decisions, including asking them sexual questions, showing pornographic pictures and videos, making explicit sexual comments, and exposing himself.  Hernandez admitted in sworn testimony that he had exposed himself to multiple women during appeals hearings concerning their housing.   

The complaint also alleged that Estelle and Cobb explicitly conditioned housing benefits in return for sexual favors and made repeated unwelcome and offensive sexual advances to women residing in or applying for public housing.  The complaint further alleged that Hernandez, Estelle, and Cobb engaged in this conduct while exercising their authority as employees of KCKHA.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability.  Sexual harassment is a form of prohibited sex discrimination under this law.  More information about the Civil Rights Division and the civil rights laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination should call the department at 1-800-896-7743, or send an e-mail to fairhousing@usdoj.gov, or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.

Updated September 29, 2017