Justice Department Announces Initiative to Combat Sexual Harassment in Housing

The Justice Department recently announced a new initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing.  The initiative specifically seeks to increase the Department’s efforts to protect women from harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, security guards, and other employees and representatives of rental property owners.  As part of the initiative, the Department will work to identify barriers to reporting sexual harassment to the Department and other enforcement agencies, and will collaborate with local law enforcement, legal services providers, and public housing authorities to leverage their expertise.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division enforces the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability.  Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited under this law.  The Civil Rights Division plans to launch a pilot of the initiative in two jurisdictions — Washington, D.C., and western Virginia — where it is working with legal service providers and local law enforcement to raise awareness about this issue.  The Department hopes to expand the effort to other areas of the country in the near future.

The announcement comes on the heels of the Department’s successful resolution of two sexual harassment cases in Kansas City, Kansas, and Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Since January of this year, the Civil Rights Division has filed or settled five cases and recovered over $1 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing.  In the Kansas City case, the Justice Department recovered $360,000 for 14 female residents and applicants of a housing authority who were subjected to unwanted sexual conduct.  The Department’s complaint alleged in part that an employee of the housing authority 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.

“No woman should be made to feel unsafe in her own home,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John M. Gore of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in announcing the initiative.  “The Justice Department is committed to vigorously enforcing the Fair Housing Act’s ban on sexual harassment and is looking forward to working closely with state and local partners to combat this problem.”

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 1-844-380-6178, or send an e-mail to fairhousing@usdoj.gov, or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.