Justice Department Obtains Settlement from Kentucky Landlords to Resolve Claims of Sexual Harassment Against Female Tenants
WASHINGTON (STL.News) The Justice Department announced today that Chester Gordon Whitescarver and his wife, Betsy Whitescarver, who have owned and managed rental properties in and around Russellville, Kentucky, have agreed to pay $230,000 to resolve a lawsuit alleging that they violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The department’s lawsuit alleged that Gordon Whitescarver has sexually harassed female tenants since at least 2012 and that Betsy Whitescarver was on notice of sexual harassment allegations but took no action to stop his sexually harassing behavior.
Under the consent decree entered by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, the Whitescarvers must pay $220,000 to 11 women who are current or former tenants harmed by the Whitescarvers’ discriminatory conduct, and must 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 take steps to repair the credit of any affected victim. The consent decree also bars future discrimination, permanently bars the Whitescarvers from property management, mandates Fair Housing Act training, and requires monitoring and reporting regarding property management activities.
“We all deserve to feel safe in our own homes,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Sexual harassment by housing providers deprives tenants of their right to be safe, secure and free from unlawful conduct. The Justice Department is committed to pursuing predatory landlords and will work resolutely to hold those landlords accountable and obtain relief for their victims.”
“I commend the attorneys and investigators assigned to this case for their outstanding work on behalf of the 11 victims,” said U.S. Attorney Michael A. Bennett for the Western District of Kentucky. “The Fair Housing Act prohibits sexual harassment of tenants. We will continue to aggressively pursue landlords who subject their tenants to such discriminatory conduct.”
The United States’ lawsuit 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 or free rent in exchange for sexual acts, and took adverse housing-related actions against female tenants who refused his sexual advances. The United States’ complaint also alleged that Betsy Whitescarver threatened and retaliated against women who complained about her husband’s harassment.
The Justice Department launched its Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative in October 2017. The Department’s Initiative is led by the Civil Rights Division, in coordination with U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country. The goal of the Initiative is to address and raise awareness about sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers, or other people who have control over housing. Since launching the Initiative, the department of Justice has filed 23 lawsuits alleging sexual harassment in housing and recovered over $5.2 million for victims of such harassment.
If you think you are a victim of sexual harassment by a landlord, or have suffered other forms of housing discrimination, you may contact the Justice Department by submitting a report online or contacting the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Kentucky at (502) 582-5911.
Reports may also may be made by contacting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777 or by filing a complaint online.