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Justice Department Secures Award Against Tennessee Landlord for Sexually Harassing Female Tenants

Following a four-day trial, a federal jury awarded $70,500 in damages to six women who rented homes in Lexington, Tennessee, from defendant Chad David Ables. The jury found that Ables sexually harassed these women at his properties, located in or near his trailer park known as Pop’s Cove, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The Justice Department’s lawsuit, filed in December 2018, alleged that since 2012, Ables subjected female tenants to a continued barrage of vulgar sexual comments, unwelcome physical touches, propositions for sex and offers to reduce rent in exchange for sex. Trial was originally scheduled for May 2020, but was postponed several times because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Justice Department will continue to take action against landlords who sexually harass and exploit vulnerable tenants,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This verdict recognizes the significant sexual abuse that female tenants were subjected to by the defendant.”

“No one should have to endure sexual harassment in order to have a safe and secure living situation,” said U.S. Attorney Kevin G. Ritz for the Western District of Tennessee. “I am gratified the jury held this landlord accountable for these unlawful acts.”

“It is illegal for landlords to subject their tenants to any form of sexual harassment,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Demetria L. McCain of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “HUD is pleased that the Department of Justice took appropriate action to put a halt to this unlawful behavior and applauds the decision by the jury.”

The case began when two women filed a sexual harassment complaint about Ables with HUD. HUD investigated the matter and referred it to the Justice Department, which filed this lawsuit. The women intervened in the lawsuit and were represented by West Tennessee Legal Services. The Justice Department later sought relief on behalf of five additional women, and one of the intervenors dropped out of the lawsuit.

The jury award includes compensatory damages for the emotional harms the women have suffered as a result of Ables’ conduct and punitive damages to punish the defendant. The Justice Department also informed the District Court Judge that it intends to seek a civil penalty against Ables to vindicate the public interest and a court order prohibiting Ables from managing the rental properties or having contact with residents or prospective tenants.

The Justice Department launched its Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative in October 2017. The initiative, which is led by the Civil Rights Division, in coordination with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country, seeks to raise awareness about and address sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers or other people who have control over housing. Since launching the initiative, the department has filed 26 lawsuits alleging sexual harassment in housing and recovered over $9.6 million for victims of such harassment. 

If you think you are a victim of sexual harassment by a landlord, property manager or rental agent, you may contact the Justice Department at 1-844-380-6178, or submit an online report at https://civilrights.justice.gov/. Reports also may be made by contacting HUD at 1-800-669-9777, or by filing an online complaint at https://www.hud.gov/fairhousing/fileacomplaint%20.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on sex, race, color, national origin, religion, disability and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at http://www.justice.gov/crt.

Source: USDOJ