SEXUAL HARASSMENT FAIR HOUSING LAWS

Sexual harassment is against the law. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that involves unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

* Submission to or rejection of such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of housing, or

* Submission to or rejection of such conduct by a person is used as a basis for housing decisions affecting that person, or

* Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an persons housing rights or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

**The above definition emphasizes that housing harassment, to be actionable as abusive, need not result in concrete psychological harm to the victim, but rather need only be so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person would perceive and the victim does perceive, the housing environment as hostile or abusive.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in the sale or rental of housing. The Fair Housing Act applies to all housing except:

* Owner occupied housing that contains 4 or less units of housing;
* Single family dwellings sold or rented by housing providers who own less than 4 such dwellings.



SEXUAL HARASSMENT: TYPES


A. Quid Pro Quo or this for that
This type of harassment occurs when a housing provider seeks sex or sexual favors in return for housing rights. Examples of such would include:

* A landlord terminating the lease of a female tenant who refused to have sex with him;

* A landlord refusing to do the repairs of a female tenant who refused to have sex with him;

In quid pro quo claims, it is not necessary for a housing provider to explicitly threaten eviction action when he or she made sexual demands. There only needs to be an adverse action following the refusal and a relationship between the harassing behavior and the adverse action show.

In order to make a claim of quid pro quo harassment, the following criterion must be met:

* You must be a member of a protected class;
* You must have been subjected to unwelcomed sexual advances;
* The unwelcomed sexual advances were due to your sex;
* You rebuffed the advances and were retaliated against in an adverse manner;
* Owner knew of or should have known of the harassment of his agent and failed to take action to stop it.**

B. Hostile Housing Environment
This type of sexual harassment takes place when unwelcomed sexual advances create an hostile, intimidating, or abusive environment or has the effect of impeding a tenantÌs housing rights. This may occur when a landlord makes unwanted sexual advances or touches a woman in a sexual manner when she does not want him to.

CASE LAW: New York v. Merlino, 694 F. Supp. 1101 (S.D.N.Y. 1988)

Court validated claim of female customers that real estate broker subjected them to unwanted physical touchings and suggestive comments.

Beliveau v. Cara, 873 F. Supp. 1393, 1395 (C.D. Cal. 1995)

Court found that the landlord activity of making off-color remarks, grabbing her breasts and buttocks, and putting arm around her created a hostile housing environment. In addition, the court stated that any touching would support a sexual harassment claim under the Fair Housing Act.

In order to bring a hostile housing environment case the following criterion must be met:
* You must be a member of protected class;
* You must have been subjected to unwelcomed and extensive sexual harassment in the form of sexual advances, requests for sexual favor, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, which has not been solicited or desired and which is viewed as undesirable or offensive.
* The sexual advances or harassment were based on their sex;
* The sexual advances or harassment makes your tenancy burdensome and significantly less desirable than if the harassment were not occurring;
* The owner knew or should have known about the sexual advances or harassment and failed to stop it.

A court will review the following factors in deciding whether or not a plaintiff has proven all elements of her claim. Some of the factors are:

* The frequency of the unwanted sexual behavior;
* Its severity;

* Whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, as opposed to a mere offensive utterance;
* Whether the conduct resulted in psychological harm, although a woman does not have to prove psychological harm in order to prove that she was subject to a hostile environment.

While one act can establish quid pro quo claim, most courts have ruled that a series of harassing acts are need to establish a hostile environment claim.


SEXUAL HARASSMENT - PARTIES

A. Aggrieved Parties

Any person who has been sexually harassed in connection with their housing - apartment, house, homeless shelter, or trailer - has a right to file a sexual harassment claim. An aggrieved person is any person who:

* Claims to have been injured about a discriminatory housing practice;
* Believes that such person will be injured by a discriminatory housing practice that is about to occur.

An injury may be tangible or intangible. Moving costs or higher rent for alternative housing are examples of tangible injuries. Examples of intangible injuries would include loss of housing or school choice and humiliation.

B. Respondents
Any person who participates in the sexual harassing activity can be named as a respondent or defendant in a sexual harassment claim. It is important for housing providers to note that because they are responsible for making sure that fair housing laws are complied with, they can be held liable for the sexual harassment of agents or employees even if they did not participate in the behavior.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT - WHERE TO FILE COMPLAINTS

A. Administrative Agency

You may file an administrative complaint with HUD or your state fair housing agency (i.e. Ohio Civil Rights Commission) within one year of the discriminatory activity. Advantages of this process are minimal costs, free legal representation, specialized judges or hearing officers, and speed.

The investigating agency will attempt to reach a settlement agreement between the parties. However, if one cannot be reached an investigation will be conducted resulting in a charge or a dismissal of the claim. If the claim is dismissed, the aggrieved parties may still bring an action in court. If the claim is not dismissed and a charge is issued, the parties have the right to elect whether to have the complaint heard by an administrative law judge or heard in court.

B. Court Action
You may file in federal court within two years of the discriminatory and sexually harassing behavior. The two year period does not include the time that you may have spent participating in an administrative action. The advantages of filing in court are broader relief-punitive and actual damages, attorney fees, jury trials, time to file, etc. Disadvantages to filing in court are costs, time consuming, less flexible proceedings, and potential for hostile or interested/inexperienced fair housing knowledge judge.

1. Remedies Available

* Actual damages to make you whole again;
* Punitive damages for intentional discrimination;
* Injunctive relief to stop behavior or keep you from losing your housing;
* Attorneys’ fees and costs to prevailing party (at court’s discretion).

C. Police Action
If you are sexually harassed by your landlord, you may want to file a report with your local police department. In 1995, the Toledo Police Department assisted in the investigation of a sexual harassment case. Tamara Ransford, a single woman, contacted the Fair Housing Center of Toledo, which contacted the Toledo Police Department. The police department agreed to equip Ransford with a wireless microphone and set up another visit to the complex.

The Center provided Ransford with a security deposit and, in cooperation with the Toledo Fair Housing Center, sent her back to the complex. Police monitored the conversation between Ransford and the manager, Kenneth Canda. When she left the office, the police arrested Canda on a charge of importuning (persistent unwelcomed requests for sexual favors). Canda later plead guilty to a reduced charge of indecent exposure.

Central Management Company, Canda’s employer, agreed to pay $50,000 plus attorney fees to the Toledo Fair Housing Center and Ms. Ransford in order to settle the complaint.

D. Private Fair Housing Organizations
Contact your local fair housing group for assistance dealing with your situation. The fair housing group can inform you of your rights and responsibilities under fair housing laws, take your complaint, conduct an investigation, assist you in filing an administrative complaint, refer you to an experienced fair housing attorney, etc.


SEXUAL HARASSMENT - HOW PARTIES MAY PROTECT THEMSELVES
A. Landlord Action
In order to minimize the potential for being hit with a sexual harassment complaint or potential damages, housing providers should take the following steps:

1. Establish a sexual harassment policy

A. Policy should be explain what behavior is unacceptable and what the penalties for violations are.
B. Know what sexual harassment is, how it happens, etc.

2. Inform employees of the established policy prohibiting sexual harassment.

A. Post in office and provide copies to all employees.

3. Monitor compliance and respond swiftly when complaints arise.

A. Take action when you hear off-color remarks, if sexually oriented materials are brought into the workplace or work environment, etc.
B. Review policies with employees at least once a year.

4. Employ a gender diverse employee base.

A. Have both males and females on staff. This should discourage a good ol’ boy or girl work environment where persons may feel free to make certain statements, etc.

5. Do not have a reputation for permitting sexual jokes, inappropriate comments, innuendoes, or touching.

6. Do not permit sexually suggestive visuals or objects to be brought into the housing management/maintenance environment. These may create potential for a complaint, do not reflect a professional image, and contribute to an offensive, hostile, and intimidating environment. In addition, these items may be used as evidence in a sexual harassment complaint.

7. Do not permit employees to refer to persons of the opposite sex as “honey,” “dear,” “sweetheart,” or other similar expressions.

B. Tenants

1. Maintain a business relationship with your landlord and/or his agents.

2. Do not wear provocative clothing when you engage face to face with your landlord and/or his agents.

3. Be proactive if you are sexually harassed:

A. Speak with the offender.

B. Keep records

Include each event, date, time, location, what happened, what was said, how you felt, and the names of witnesses or other persons victimized.

C. Write letters
Write a letter to the offender and his employer or boss.

D. Follow the other recommendations noted throughout this handbook.


SEXUAL HARASSMENT - POLICY POINTERS
A. Identity The Problem

Any of these elements may constitute sexual harassment:

1. Physical contact
2. Gestures
3. Jokes
4. Pictures
5. Comments
6. Terms of Endearment
7. Questionable Comments


B. Evaluation

1. Does behavior contribute to maintaining professional business like relationships?
2. Do you care if you offend others?
3. Could someone misinterpret my behavior as intentionally harmful or harassing?
4. Does your behavior offend or hurt others?

C. Your role and Responsibility

Victim


1. Contact a fair housing agency. If none available, contact an attorney.
2. File a report with police.
3. Notify owner of complaint.

Offender

1. Stop behavior immediately.
2. Notify property owner and superiors or employer.
3. If legal action filed against you, contact an attorney.
4. Avoid any appearance of retaliation, whether direct or indirect.
5. Take responsibility and see that it does not happen again.

Owner

1. Discuss the incident with the alleged harasser.
2. Suggest that alleged harasser seek legal counsel.
3. Seek legal counsel.
4. Conduct a fact finding investigation and cooperate with any official investigating body such as HUD or the OCRC.
5. Take strong action for proven sexual harassment.


It is important to remember that fair housing laws make it illegal for anyone to subject you to harassment, intimidation, and interference because you have filed a complaint, assisted someone else in filing a complaint or in exercising their fair housing rights, or even refused to participate in an act which would violate fair housing laws.

Knowledge is power! It is important that you know about fair housing rights and responsibilities and what actions can be taken if your fair housing rights are violated. Victims of housing discrimination can seek the following remedies:

* Compensation for damages from humiliation, embarrassment, pain, suffering, including actual damages;

* Attorneys’ fees;
* Punitive damages;
* Other injunctive or equitable relief

If you suspect that you or someone you know has been discriminated against or harassed because of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap, it should be reported immediately. To report such acts, you may contact the:

* FAIR HOUSING ADVOCATES ASSOCIATION
(330-253-2450)

* U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING & URBAN DEVELOPMENT
(1-800-669-9777/-1800-927-9275-TDD)

* OHIO CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION
(330-643-3100)

The Fair Housing Advocates Association (FHAA) seeks to be accurate in providing housing information to prospective and existing tenant and landlords, home-seekers, housing providers, and the general public. The FHAA recognizes that errors may occur and will be corrected when they are discovered. The information provided in this handbook is only intended to provide its readers with information and guidance. Should persons want legal advice they should contact an attorney.