Here is another example of a Fair Housing Act lawsuit that was fairly recently settled by the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ"). I try to post summaries of these types of cases in order to provide updates to real estate professionals about the "dos and don'ts" under the Fair Housing Act, since fair housing is such an important issue.
In September 2008, the DOJ settled a fair housing lawsuit that was brought again a Cincinnati landlord, James G. Mitchell, and his company, Land Baron Enterprises. Mr. Mitchell was the owner and operator of several rental properties in the Cincinnati, Ohio, metropolitan area. The defendants agreed to pay $1 million in monetary damages and a civil penalty, after admitting that they violated the Fair Housing Act. This was the largest monetary settlement that the DOJ has ever obtained in a case alleging sexual harassment violations under the Fair Housing Act.
The DOJ’s lawsuit alleged that Mr. Mitchell had subjected female tenants to unwanted verbal sexual advances and unwanted sexual touching, entered the apartments of female tenants without permission or notice, granted and denied tangible housing benefits based on sex, and took adverse action against female tenants when they refused or objected to his sexual advances.
The DOJ began investigating Mr. Mitchell after Housing Opportunities Made Equal (“HOME”), a Cincinnati-based non-profit fair housing advocacy group, notified the DOJ of several sexual harassment complaints it had received about Mr. Mitchell.
Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants were required to pay $890,000 in compensation to 12 women who Mr. Mitchell sexually harassed and $110,000 in a civil penalty to the United States. In addition, the settlement enjoined Mr. Mitchell from further discrimination and required him to retain an independent management company to manage any future rental properties he acquires. Mr. Mitchell currently does not own or operate any rental properties.
Every real estate professional should already know that the Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to discriminate in housing on the basis of sex. What many real estate professionals do not realize, however, is that that includes sexual harassment.
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