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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Justice Department Sues Scotland County, North Carolina, Public Housing Agency and Two Employees for Sexual Harassment

The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit against Southeastern Community and Family Services, Inc. (formerly Four-County Community Services, Inc.), a public housing agency that administers the Section 8 voucher program in Scotland County, North Carolina, along with two of its employees John Wesley and Eric Pender.  The lawsuit alleges that Wesley, the Section 8 housing coordinator, and Pender, the housing inspector, have sexually harassed female voucher program participants and applicants, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, alleges, among other things, that Wesley and Pender have subjected voucher program participants and applicants to unwanted sexual comments, sexual touching and other sexual acts, conditioned or offered Section 8 benefits in exchange for sexual acts and took adverse housing actions against those who rebuffed their sexual advances.  As alleged in the complaint, Pender and Wesley have engaged in this conduct while exercising their authority as employees of Southeastern Community and Family Services (SCFS), and SCFS has failed to take reasonable preventive or corrective measures.

“No one, including those who seek public assistance for housing benefits, should be subjected to sexual harassment, particularly by the very people tasked with providing critical assistance,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division.  “The Justice Department will continue its vigorous enforcement of the Fair Housing Act against those who abuse their power and authority.” 

“To invade the safety and security of someone’s home with sexually harassing and other abhorrent behavior will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney Ripley Rand for the Middle District of North Carolina. “The goal of this lawsuit is to vindicate the rights of those subjected to the types of shameful conduct alleged in the Complaint – conduct that is a violation both of federal law and of basic human decency.”

The suit seeks monetary damages to compensate victims, civil penalties, and a court order barring future discrimination and requiring additional preventive measures.

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 www.justice.gov/crt.  Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination by Southeastern Community and Family Services, John Wesley, or Eric Pender or have other information about this matter can contact the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox 94, or e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov.  Persons who believe that they have experienced unlawful housing discrimination elsewhere can contact the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, or e-mail fairhousing@usdoj.gov, or contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.

The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct.  The allegations must be proven in federal court.

Updated August 7, 2015