Justice Department Obtains Consent Decree in Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Owners of Minneapolis Area Rental Properties
The Justice Department today announced that it has obtained a consent decree with Reese Pfeiffer and several other defendants to resolve allegations that Pfeiffer violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by subjecting 23 women to severe and repeated sexual harassment and retaliation at residential properties defendants own or manage in and around Minneapolis.
Under the consent decree, the defendants must pay a total of $736,000 in compensation to 23 victims of the alleged sexual harassment and retaliation, and a $14,000 civil penalty to the United States. Additionally, the consent decree permanently bars Reese Pfeiffer from property management and requires the retention of an independent property manager approved by the Department of Justice at specified Twin Cities properties. The defendants must also undergo education and training on the FHA, with specific emphasis on discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual harassment.
The defendants are property managers/owners Reese Pfeiffer, Jeanne Pfeiffer, Michael Fruen and Jeremy Martineau and business entities Fruen & Pfeiffer LLP (F&P) and M. Fruen Properties (MFP).
The consent decree, entered today by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, resolves a lawsuit that the department filed in Sept. 2020, as well as a related private lawsuit brought by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid on behalf of three women who were subjected to Pfeiffer’s alleged sexual harassment.
“All people deserve to feel safe in their homes,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Sexual harassment in housing deprives individuals of that security. The Justice Department will not tolerate landlords who abuse their power by sexually harassing their tenants and will continue to work resolutely to hold such persons accountable and obtain relief for their victims.”
“The sexual harassment and discrimination of female tenants is unacceptable and a violation of federal law,” said Acting U.S. Attorney W. Anders Folk for the District of Minnesota. “This resolution helps restore the public safety of these female tenants. No one should be subjected to an environment of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, especially in their own homes.”
The United States’ lawsuit alleged that Reese Pfeiffer, property manager for numerous rental properties in Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs, subjected multiple female tenants and prospective tenants to sexual harassment. The complaint alleged that Reese Pfeiffer commented on female tenants’ looks and body parts, engaged in unwelcome touching, asked personal questions about their relationship status, made unwelcome sexual advances, discussed sexual topics without consent, entered their homes under the pretense of collecting rent to solicit sexual favors, and offered them rental benefits, such as excusing late or unpaid rent, in exchange for sexual favors. The complaint further alleged that Reese Pfeiffer’s co-defendants are vicariously liable for Pfeiffer’s discriminatory conduct because he acted as their agent when he sexually harassed tenants at properties in which they had an ownership interest.
This case is handled by the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota with the assistance of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Office of Inspector General.
The Justice Department’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative is led by the Civil Rights Division, in coordination with U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country. The goal of the 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 October 2017, the Department of Justice has filed 23 lawsuits alleging sexual harassment in housing and recovered over $4.8 million for victims of such harassment.
If you think you are a victim of sexual harassment by a landlord, or other forms of housing discrimination, you may contact the Justice Department by submitting a report online or contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota at (612) 664-5600.
Reports also may be made by contacting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777 or by filing a complaint online.