My building’s super keeps sexually harassing me! What can I do?
When most people think of “sexual harassment”, they tend to think of it as happening in the workplace. While workplace sexual harassment is an issue (see our previous posts here, sexual harassment in housing is every bit as real and problematic. It can cause great stress for residents, and the consequences for all involved can be great.
It is important to know what your rights are, what sexual harassment means, and what steps you can take. Our Award Winning New York Fair Housing Attorney generally discusses a housing case that resulted in the largest recovery ever in a sexual harassment suit brought by the Federal government under the Fair Housing Act.
United States of America et al. v. William Barnason et al.
In its lawsuit against the landlord, superintendent, and building manager of several New York City apartment buildings, the Federal government alleged that the defendants violated the Federal Fair Housing Act by discriminating on the basis of sex and subjecting numerous tenants to severe, unwelcome, or pervasive sexual harassment.
Building owner Stanley Katz had hired Baranson, a Level 3 registered sex offender, as the superintendent for the properties in question. Between 2004 and 2010, multiple female tenants complained to Katz about Baranson, complaining that he repeatedly attempted to enter their apartments while inebriated and demanded sex; groped and fondled them; subjected them to unwanted verbal sexual advances; demanded sexual favors in return for tangible housing benefits and rent reductions; and took adverse action against any tenant that refused his demands.
The landlord’s son, Stephen Katz, who was the buildings’ manager, himself created a hostile environment for the tenants by subjecting them to offensive epithets, threatened, intimidated, and humiliated the women. Rather than address the complaints, Katz ignored them. The resulting lawsuit, brought by the Federal government together with the tenants, ultimately resulted in a settlement, where the defendants agreed:
Agreed Upon Settlement Terms
1. To pay $2,000,000 to the tenants who had been alleged to been victimized by the behavior;
2. To pay $55,000 in civil penalties;
3. To be enjoined from further discriminating against any person in the terms and conditions of renting a dwelling because of sex;
4. The building owner, Stanley Katz, will be prohibited from managing his buildings;
5. Katz would also have to implement a written policy against sexual harassment at his buildings, including educating his employees about housing discrimination laws;
6. The superintendent, Barnason, is permanently enjoined from entering any of the buildings in the future, and from having any involvement in the management or maintenance of occupied rental housing properties with certain strict exceptions; and
7. The owner’s son, Stephen, would complete a program of educations training focusing on sexual discrimination.
Not included in the settlement, but as a further consequence of the action, Defendants undoubtedly spent a great deal of money on attorneys’ fees, as well.
The conduct at issue in this case constituted severe or pervasive sexual harassment, which created a hostile environment for the female tenants and/or amounted to quid pro quo harassment in violation of federal laws.
So what constitutes sexual harassment in housing?
Sexual harassment can include unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment can occur to any person, male or female, and can be committed by someone of the same sex or some- one of the opposite sex.
There are generally two types of sexual harassment that are recognized:
(1) quid pro quo sexual harassment (i.e., when a housing provider, or their employee, agent or contractor conditions access to, or retention of, housing or housing-related services or transactions on a victim’s submission to sexual conduct- such as when Barnason would offer rent reduction in return for sexual favors and then take adverse action against the women if they didn’t comply); and
(2) hostile environment sexual harassment (i.e. when a housing provider or their employee, agent or contractor, or in certain circumstances even another tenant, engages in sexual behavior of such severity or pervasiveness that it alters the terms or conditions of tenancy and results in an environment that is intimidating. hostile, offensive, or otherwise significantly less desirable- such as when Barnason would attempt to enter the women’s apartments while demanding sex.)
So what can I do about it?
2. Document or memorialize the events as soon as they happen. Try to preserve any and all evidence of the alleged activity, and identify any witnesses that can verify what you’re alleging.
3. Be aware that there are several options available to you- from bringing suit in federal or state court, to filing with an administrative agency.
Finally- If you believe that you have been sexually harassed at home, call us at (800) 893-9645 to learn your rights. Each case is different and requires specific analysis. This blog post discusses this topic in general. You should seek legal advice on your specific situation.
In all the world, your home should be the place where you feel the most safe and secure. Sexual harassment by a landlord, cooperative or condominium board member, or an employee of a building creates an environment of fear, distrust, and unease. It does not have to be tolerated. Call us today for a confidential consultation.
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