Boston, Massachusetts - The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that a property manager in Chicopee, Massachusetts, violated the Fair Housing Act by subjecting female tenants to sexual harassment.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleges that Salazar dos Santos, who manages residential rental properties in Chicopee, Massachusetts, has subjected tenants to sexual harassment on multiple occasions since at least 2008.
According to the complaint, dos Santos subjected female tenants to unwelcome sexual contact, including coercing them to perform oral sex and touching intimate parts of their bodies. The complaint also alleges that dos Santos exposed his genitals to female tenants, locked tenants in his office, implicitly offered to grant tangible benefits, such as rent payment plans, in exchange for engaging in sexual acts with him, and threatened tenants who resisted or objected to his unwelcome sexual harassment. The owners of the properties, two family trusts, are alleged to be liable for Salazar dos Santos’s conduct.
“No woman who seeks safe, affordable housing should ever face demands for sex, sexual propositions, unwanted touching, and threats. Such abusive conduct by landlords and property managers violates federal law and shocks the conscience,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from sexual harassment and threats by their housing providers, and the Justice Department will work resolutely to hold such predators accountable and to obtain relief for their victims.”
“No one should be forced to provide sexual favors, or otherwise endure sexual harassment, in exchange for housing,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling for the District of Massachusetts. “Sexual harassment is illegal under the Fair Housing Act and, especially during a time of increased unemployment and financial stress, my office will aggressively enforce this law to protect hard working women and others subjected to this kind of abusive conduct.”
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.
Today’s lawsuit is the twentieth to be filed since the 2017 launch of the Justice Department’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative. The 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 department’s 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 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to combat sexual harassment in housing.
In the last year alone, the department filed more sexual harassment lawsuits – eight – than it has in any other year. The 20 lawsuits filed in the last three years demonstrate the department’s commitment to vigorously enforcing the Fair Housing Act to stop the predatory conduct and vindicate the rights of those who are being abused by their landlords and property managers. The lawsuits have been filed in states across the country, from California to Massachusetts, from Alabama to Kentucky, and beyond, and allege harassment in rural communities and urban centers, in apartment buildings and mobile homes, in market-rate homes and in subsidized housing. The Justice Department will continue to pursue these cases across the country, and will work with federal, state and local partners where appropriate to bring the perpetrators to justice.
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.