Justice Department Obtains $600,000 Settlement in Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against North Carolina Property Owner
Property Owner Subjected Women to Sexual Harassment for Over 10 Years
The Justice Department today announced a settlement with Robert Hatfield to resolve a lawsuit alleging that he violated the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by subjecting 17 actual and prospective female residents of homes he owned in Wilkes County, North Carolina, to sexual harassment over the course of more than 10 years.
Under the settlement, which the parties filed today with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Hatfield has agreed to pay a total of $600,000, which includes $550,000 in monetary damages to former and prospective residents, as well as a $50,000 civil penalty. The settlement also permanently bars Hatfield from participating in the rental, sale, or financing of residential properties, and requires that he relinquish his ownership interest in all such properties.
“Abusing power and control over housing and credit by committing acts of sexual harassment is an abhorrent and intolerable violation of every woman’s right to equal housing and credit opportunities,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “The Justice Department, through its Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative, will continue to aggressively enforce federal anti-discrimination laws against property managers and owners who cause women to feel unsafe in their homes.”
“Using a woman’s need for housing and safety as leverage to obtain sexual favors is behavior that is both illegal and depraved,” said Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. “Hatfield’s settlement underscores my office’s commitment to continue to vigorously enforce the federal civil rights laws to combat sexual harassment in housing and to hold accountable those who violate these statutes.”
The complaint, filed in 2017, alleged that Hatfield ran a real estate business that involved not only operating residential rental properties, but also selling homes through “owner financing,” meaning he extended credit to individuals to purchase homes that he owned. The lawsuit alleged that he subjected actual and prospective female residents of these homes to sexual harassment by making unwanted sexual advances and comments, groping or otherwise touching their bodies without consent, offering to reduce or eliminate down payments, rent, and loan obligations in exchange for sexual favors, and taking or threatening to take adverse action against residents when they refused or objected to his advances.
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 nine lawsuits alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing. The Justice Department has filed or settled 14 sexual harassment cases since January 2017, and has recovered over $2.2 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division enforces the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prohibit discrimination in housing and lending. 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 can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or through its website at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp.