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MONTGOMERY, AL – A federal court in Alabama ordered that a real estate agent and the owner of rental units the agent managed in Montgomery, Alabama, must pay damages to a low-income renter for sexual harassment. The agent had repeatedly tried to coerce the renter into having sex with him and then raised her rent and attempted to evict her when she refused. The ruling from the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Alabama came late yesterday.
“Too often landlords and rental agents try to exploit low-income women who have few affordable rental options by demanding sex as a condition of housing,” said Olivia Turner, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, which is representing the renter. “The court’s order sends a loud and clear message that this form of exploitation is never acceptable.”
The ACLU, the ACLU of Alabama, the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center, and Legal Services Alabama, Inc. filed a lawsuit against Elite Real Estate Consulting Group agent Jamarlo GumBayTay and landlord Matthew Bahr, on behalf of the renter, Yolanda Boswell, in 2007 charging that GumBayTay’s sexual harassment and coercive tactics violated the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, familial status and disability.
The court found both Bahr and GumBayTay at fault for GumBayTay’s reprehensible behavior and awarded Boswell over $50,000 in damages. The court noted that Gumbaytay’s sexual harassment was well documented by recorded phone conversations he had with Boswell in which he indicated that the amount of rent Boswell paid depended on whether she would have sex with him.
“Unscrupulous property managers and landlords will now think twice before trying to take advantage of women who are low-income or receive Section 8 or other housing assistance,” said Emily Martin, Deputy Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Women have a right to live in safe and secure homes where sexual favors are not expected in return for roofs over their heads.”
In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice filed its own lawsuit against GumBayTay and various landlords, alleging that GumBayTay has sexually harassed many other women who live at other properties he manages throughout Montgomery.
“We hope Ms. Boswell’s victory will give more women the courage to come forward and assert their right to be free from sexual harassment,” said Kenneth Lay, housing advocacy director for Legal Services Alabama. “This also puts property owners on notice that they are responsible for the discriminatory acts of their managers and agents.”
Attorneys on the case include Allison Neal from the ACLU of Alabama, Martin and Lenora Lapidus from the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, Lay from Legal Services Alabama, Inc., and Faith Cooper from the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center.
A copy of the ACLU’s complaint and the rulings on the case are available online at: www.aclu.org/womensrights/violence/33583res20070214.html
More information on the ACLU Women’s Rights Project is available online at: www.aclu.org/womensrights/index.html
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