Two St. Louis landlords will pay a fine of $625,000 and are banned from serving as property managers as part of a settlement with the Department of Justice, which accused one of the landlords of sexually harassing female residents over a 20-year period.
According to the DOJ, the settlement stems from a lawsuit against Hezekiah and Jameseva Webb, which accused the pair of violating the Fair Housing Act by subjecting 15 female tenants in their rental properties to sexual harassment.
The lawsuit alleged that Hezekiah Webb, who served as the property manager for the Webbs’ rental properties, sexually harassed female residents at those properties between at least 1994 and at least 2014.
According to the DOJ, the lawsuit claimed that Hezekiah Webb offered “tangible housing benefits,” such as cheaper rent, excusing late or unpaid rent, or delaying eviction proceedings in exchange for sex or sexual favors.
Webb was also accused of coercing female tenants to engage in unwelcome sexual acts; making unwelcome sexual comments and advances to female tenants and prospective tenants; groping, touching, or attempting to touch female tenants on their breasts and bodies without their consent; and taking “adverse housing actions,” or threatening to do so, against female residents or prospective tenants 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.
While the Webbs deny all of the allegations brought by the United States in its lawsuit, and the DOJ cautions that the settlement should not viewed as an admission of wrongdoing or an admission of liability by the Webbs, they chose to settle nonetheless.
Under the terms of the settlement, Hezekiah and Jameseva Webb are ordered to pay a total of $600,000 in monetary damages to 15 former and prospective tenants who were subjected to sexual harassment. Additionally, they must pay a $25,000 civil penalty to the United States.
The settlement also prohibits Hezekiah and Jameseva Webb from continuing to serve as property managers.
According to the DOJ, the Webbs advised the United States that they plan to sell their remaining five residential rental properties.
But the DOJ said that the if the Webbs fail to sell those properties 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,” along with training on their requirements under the Fair Housing Act.
“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.”
According to the DOJ, each of the alleged victims will get between $20,000 and $60,000.
“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.”