Summary of Court Case Involving Sexual Harassment and Discrimination
On December 13, 2021, the court entered a consent order in United States v. Whitescarver (W.D. Ky.). The complaint, filed on April 1, 2020, alleged that Gordon Whitescarver subjected multiple female tenants to sexual harassment and retaliation. According to the complaint, he made repeated and unwelcome sexual comments, entered the homes of female tenants without their consent, touched female tenants without their consent, requested sexual acts, offered reduced rent or free rent in exchange for sexual acts, and took adverse housing-related action against female tenants who refused his sexual advances. The complaint also alleged that Betsy Whitescaver, Gordon Whitescarver’s wife, threatened and retaliated against women who complained about her husband’s harassment. The consent order requires the Whitescarvers to pay $220,000 to 11 women who are current or former tenants who were harmed by the Whitescarvers’ discriminatory conduct and pay a $10,000 civil penalty to the United States. The Whitescarvers must also take steps to dismiss any pending eviction actions against the victims, vacate any adverse judgments they obtained against the victims, and repair the credit of any affected victim. The consent decree also permanently bars the Whitescarvers from engaging in property management and mandates Fair Housing Act training and reporting to the United States.
press release (12/13/2021)
press release (4/1/2020)
Case Open Date:
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
United States v. Whitescarver (W.D. Ky.)
Tags: fair housing act; fha; Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968; Betsy Whitescarver;
Industry Code: None
Component: Civil Rights Division
Civil Rights – Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
Case Documents: Complaint – United States v. Whitescarver (W.D. Ky.)
Consent Decree – United States v. Chester Gordon Whitescarver (W.D. Ky.)
The Government alleges egregious and overt acts of sexual harassment in this case, which is reflected in the substantial monetary damages included in this settlement. This settlement is not an anomaly; cases involving sexual harassment under the FHA tend to result in verdicts and settlement amounts that are significantly higher than in other types of cases. Sexual harassment is not more or less illegal than other types of harassment or discriminatory act, but oftentimes these cases involve more than one victim. It is also no secret that HUD and the DOJ aggressively pursue these types of cases, and rightfully so.
These specific allegations include both quid pro quo harassment (translated as “this for that” or “what for what” in Latin), which is the demand for sexual acts in exchange for favorable or basic housing terms/services, as well as hostile environment harassment, which causes severe or pervasive discomfort in one’s home. Quid pro quo harassment is obviously the more overt act that has tangible consequences (i.e. loss or delay of maintenance or pest control services or even nonrenewal or lease termination). Hostile environment harassment is either repeated or severe unwanted comments, gestures, or touching that makes a tenant feel intimidated or uncomfortable living in their home. This type of harassment may not have a direct or immediate effect on a tenant’s housing status and is often more difficult to prove, but it is illegal under the Fair Housing Act and a valid cause of action.
As an attorney who represents housing providers, I believe at times that the governments’ demands during settlement can be overreaching, in that they may not relate to the actual claims being asserted. However, in this case, it appears that the settlement terms are properly tailored to correct the harm caused by the alleged illegal acts (as much as can be achieved through remedial action) and to compensate the victims for the alleged harm. If the government’s allegations are true, keeping landlords like this out of the industry may be the most important and effective result of this action.
There are great benefits to retaining fair housing legal counsel to make sure your policies and procedures are up to date to help you stay compliant.