The Department of Justice announced today that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that the owners of rental properties in Muskegon, Michigan, violated the Fair Housing Act by subjecting female tenants to sexual harassment and retaliation.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, alleges that Darrell Jones sexually harassed female tenants of rental properties that he owned from at least 2008 to 2018. According to the complaint, Jones made repeated and unwelcome sexual comments, touched female tenants’ bodies without their consent, requested sexual favors, offered reduced or free rent in exchange for sex, and retaliated against female tenants who refused his sexual advances. The lawsuit also names as defendants Fatima Jones and Jones Investing LLC, co-owners of several of the rental properties where the harassment occurred.
“No woman should be forced to suffer sexual harassment to keep her home,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from sexual harassment and retaliation by their landlords, and the Justice Department will vigorously pursue those who engage in such reprehensible and illegal conduct.”
“My office looks forward to vindicating the rights of these tenants,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge for the Western District of Michigan. “I would like all tenants in West Michigan to know that we are here to help if they experience sexual harassment by a landlord or property manager. No one should have to choose between housing and freedom from sexual harassment.”
Today’s lawsuit seeks monetary damages to compensate the victims, civil penalties to vindicate the public interest, and a court order barring future discrimination. The complaint contains allegations of unlawful conduct; the allegations must be proven in federal court.
The Justice Department’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative is an effort to combat sexual harassment in housing led by the Civil Rights Division, in coordination with U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country. The Attorney General recently reaffirmed this commitment by directing the Justice Department to deploy all available enforcement tools against anyone who tries to capitalize on the COVID-19 crisis by sexually harassing people in need of housing. The goal of the initiative is to address sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers, or other people who have control over housing. As part of the initiative, the Justice Department developed a public service announcement and formed a joint task force with HUD to combat sexual harassment in housing. Since launching the Initiative in October 2017, the Department of Justice has filed 15 lawsuits alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing.
The federal Fair Housing Act 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 who believe that they may have been victims of sexual harassment or other types of housing discrimination at rental dwellings owned or managed by the Joneses or Jones Investing, LLC, or who have other information that may be relevant to this case, can contact the Housing Discrimination Tip Line, at 1-800-896-7743, and select option number 91 to leave a message.
Individuals can also report sexual harassment and other forms of housing discrimination by e-mailing the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org