The U.S. Department of Justice has secured an agreement for landlords to pay $500,000 in damages in a sexual harassment lawsuit involving the sexual harassment of female tenants over a period of 20 years.
The Justice Department said in a release that Richard and Mary Donahue, landlords who own more than 100 residential rental units in and around Janesville, Wisconsin, have agreed to pay $500,000 in monetary damages and a $123,965 civil penalty to the government to resolve a Fair Housing Act (FHA) lawsuit concerning Richard Donahue’s sexual harassment of female tenants over more than 20 years.
“A home should be one’s sanctuary, not a place where you are subjected to dehumanizing and prolonged periods of sexual harassment,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “When landlords sexually harass their tenants, they deprive them of the ability to feel safe and secure in their own homes. This agreement sends a strong message that the Justice Department will continue to enforce federal civil rights laws to ensure all tenants are protected from unlawful discrimination.”
“The lengthy course of sexual harassment and retaliation against female tenants in this case is disturbing and unacceptable,” said U.S. Attorney Timothy M. O’Shea for the Western District of Wisconsin. “Our office remains committed to holding landlords accountable for violations of the Fair Housing Act.”
Under the terms of the proposed consent decree, which still must be approved by the court, Richard and Mary Donahue will pay $500,000 in monetary damages to 13 female tenants harmed by Richard Donahue.
“The defendants are also required to seek to vacate any retaliatory eviction judgments obtained against these tenants and to take steps to correct the tenants’ credit histories. The defendants are also permanently enjoined from managing residential rental properties in the future and must retain an independent property manager to manage their rental properties for the duration of the decree. Finally, the defendants must pay a $123,695 civil penalty to the government, the maximum civil penalty allowed under the FHA,” the Justice Department said in the release.
The lawsuit alleged that, since at least 2000, Richard Donahue harassed female tenants by making repeated and unwelcome sexual comments, touching tenants’ bodies without their consent, demanding sexual activity in exchange for rent and housing-related benefits and taking adverse actions against tenants who resisted his sexual advances or complained about the harassment.
The suit was filed in May 2022.
The Justice Department’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative is led by the Civil Rights Division, in coordination with U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country. The goal of the department’s initiative is to address, deter and raise awareness about 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 department has filed 38 lawsuits alleging sexual harassment in housing and recovered more than $11.8 million for victims of such harassment.