St. Louis, Missouri - The Justice Department Monday announced a settlement with two St. Louis landlords, Hezekiah and Jameseva Webb, to resolve a lawsuit alleging that they violated the Fair Housing Act by subjecting fifteen female tenants in their rental properties to sexual harassment over the course of two decades.
The lawsuit arose from a complaint filed by a former tenant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The suit alleged that Hezekiah Webb, who served as property manager for the Webbs’ rental properties, sexually harassed female tenants at those properties. The United States alleged that Hezekiah Webb conditioned housing and housing benefits on female tenants’ agreement to engage in sexual acts, coerced female tenants to engage in unwelcome sexual acts, subjected female tenants to unwanted sexual touching and other unwanted sexual acts, made unwelcome sexual comments and advances to female tenants, and took adverse actions against female residents when they refused his sexual advances. The lawsuit further alleged that Jameseva Webb was liable under the Fair Housing Act because Hezekiah Webb acted as her agent when he engaged in the harassment.
Under the settlement, Hezekiah and Jameseva Webb will pay a total of $600,000 in monetary damages to fifteen former and prospective tenants who were subjected to sexual harassment, as well as a $25,000 civil penalty to the United States. The settlement also bars Hezekiah and Jameseva Webb from continuing to serve as property managers. The Webbs have advised the United States that they plan to sell their remaining five residential rental properties. If they fail to do so within 180 days, the settlement will impose certain requirements on them with regard to the remaining properties, including adoption of a sexual harassment policy, creation of tenant complaint procedures, and training on the Fair Housing Act’s requirements.
“Sexual harassment is unacceptable and intolerable, especially in the home, where landlords and property managers have the power to control so many aspects of a vulnerable tenant’s life,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department and its Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative will continue to aggressively pursue sexual harassment in housing, even when the conduct occurred years ago.”
“No woman should have to put up with unwanted sexual advances in order to keep a roof over her head,” said Anna Maria Farías, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Today’s settlement sends a loud and clear message that HUD and the Justice Department are committed to taking appropriate action against housing providers who deprive women of the right to feel safe and secure in their home.”
In October, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced the Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative (SHHI). The initiative specifically seeks to increase the Department’s efforts to protect individuals from harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, security guards, and other employees and representatives of rental property owners. In 2017, the Justice Department recovered more than $1 million in damages for harassment victims. This is the first settlement announcement in 2018.
The Justice Department, through the U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the 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. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination prohibited by the Act.