Justice Department Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Owners and Manager of Kansas Rental Properties

Washington, DC (STL.News) The Department of Justice announced Friday that Thong Cao and his wife, Mai Cao, will be obligated to pay $160,000 in damages and civil penalties to resolve a Fair Housing Act lawsuit alleging that Thong Cao sexually harassed numerous female tenants since at least 2009 at residential properties he owned or operated in Wichita, Kansas.  Mai Cao is named as a defendant in this lawsuit because she owned or co-owned certain rental properties at which harassment took place.

Under the consent order in United States of America v. Thong Cao, et al., which was entered today by the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, defendants are required to pay a total of $160,000, which includes $155,000 in monetary damages to eleven former tenants who were harmed as a result of the sexual harassment, and a $5,000 civil penalty.  The consent order also bars the defendants from participating in the rental or management of residential properties in the future.

“Sexual harassment of women in their homes is indecent, destructive, and illegal,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division.  “The Fair Housing Act protects the right of women and their families to live in peace and security and without the fear that deviant people will intimidate and bully them for sexual favors.  This department will continue tirelessly to pursue landlords and others who abuse their authority by preying upon vulnerable women.”

“Access to fair housing is every person’s right,” said U.S. Attorney Stephen R. McAllister for the District of Kansas.  “Landlords, property managers and their employees are legally prohibited from making sexual favors a condition of obtaining or maintaining a place to live.”

The department’s lawsuit, filed in 2017, arose from two complaints that former tenants filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  The lawsuit alleged that Thong Cao sexually harassed multiple female residents at the rental properties from at least 2009 to 2014.  According to the complaint, Thong Cao engaged in harassment that included, among other things, making unwelcome sexual advances and comments, engaging in unwanted sexual touching, and terminating the tenancies of women who refused to engage in sexual conduct with him.

In October 2017, the Justice Department launched a new initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing. In April 2018, the Department of Justice announced the nationwide rollout, including three major components: an outreach toolkit to leverage the department’s nationwide network of U.S. Attorney’s Offices, a public awareness campaign, including the launch of a national Public Service Announcement, and a new joint Task Force with HUD to combat sexual harassment in housing.

Since launching the initiative, the Department of Justice has filed 13 new lawsuits alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing.  The Justice Department has filed or settled 18 sexual harassment cases since January 2017, and has recovered over $2.7 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing.