The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that the owner and managers of a rental property in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, harassed a tenant because of his sex, including his sexual orientation and his disability, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
Today’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, alleges that Dennis Parker, the onsite manager of the property, subjected a gay male tenant with a disability to unwelcome harassment, both verbally and through numerous text messages during his tenancy in 2020 and 2021. The complaint also alleges that Parker struck the tenant in the groin and threatened to evict him in retaliation for reporting the harassment to the police. The lawsuit also names as defendants Leaf Property Investments LLC which owns the property, and Sam Leaf, who manages the property. The complaint alleges that Parker managed the property on behalf of these defendants.
The tenant, who later moved out of the property, filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) alleging that the defendants had violated the Fair Housing Act. After an investigation, HUD determined that the defendants had discriminated against the tenant in violation of the Fair Housing Act and it issued a charge of discrimination. After the tenant chose to have the matter decided in federal court, HUD referred the matter to the Justice Department.
“We stand ready to use our civil rights laws to combat all forms of sexual harassment in housing, including harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will hold accountable landlords and housing providers who engage in unlawful discrimination and harassment of vulnerable tenants.”
“No tenant should have to choose between having a stable residence or enduring sexual harassment from their landlord or property manager,” said U.S Attorney Richard G. Frohling for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to working with our federal, state, local, Tribal and community partners to combat all forms of sexual harassment in housing and to seeking justice for those impacted by this type of egregious conduct.”
“Housing discrimination has no place in our society,” said HUD Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Demetria L. McCain. “HUD is glad to partner with the Department of Justice to root out housing discrimination of all kinds, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and disability.”
The lawsuit seeks an order requiring the defendants to pay monetary damages to the tenant and cease discrimination against any tenant based on sex and disability.
The Justice Department’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative is led by the Civil Rights Division, in coordination with U.S. Attorneys’ offices across the country. The goal of the initiative is to address and combat unlawful sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers or other people who have control over housing. Since launching the initiative in October 2017, the Justice Department has filed 25 lawsuits alleging sexual harassment in housing and recovered over $9.6 million for victims of such harassment.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division enforces the Fair Housing Act, which 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 http://www.justice.gov/crt. Individuals may report harassment or other forms of housing discrimination by calling the Justice Department’s Housing Discrimination tip line at 1-833-591-0291, emailing the Justice Department at [email protected], or submitting a report online. Individuals may also report such discrimination by contacting HUD at 1-800-669-9777 or by filing a complaint online.