Justice Department Secures $624,965 Settlement from Janesville Landlords in Fair Housing Act Lawsuit Over Decades-Long Sexual Harassment

Justice Department Secures $624,965 Settlement from Janesville Landlords in Fair Housing Act Lawsuit Over Decades-Long Sexual Harassment

The Justice Department has announced a groundbreaking resolution to a Fair Housing Act (FHA) lawsuit, revealing that landlords Richard and Mary Donahue, who own over 100 residential rental units in and around Janesville, Wisconsin, have agreed to pay $500,000 in monetary damages and a $123,965 civil penalty.

The lawsuit specifically addresses the extensive sexual harassment perpetrated by Richard Donahue against female tenants spanning more than two decades.

Violation of Sanctity:

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division emphasized the sanctity of one’s home and condemned the dehumanizing and prolonged sexual harassment experienced by the female tenants.

Clarke highlighted the significance of protecting tenants from unlawful discrimination, asserting that the Justice Department will vigorously enforce federal civil rights laws.

Legal Consequences and Message:

U.S. Attorney Timothy M. O’Shea for the Western District of Wisconsin expressed deep concern over the lengthy course of sexual harassment and retaliation against female tenants.

O’Shea affirmed the commitment to hold landlords accountable for Fair Housing Act violations, emphasizing the disturbing and unacceptable nature of the defendants’ actions.

The announcement sends a powerful message about the Justice Department’s dedication to upholding the rights of tenants and combating unlawful practices.

Proposed Consent Decree Terms:

According to the proposed consent decree, yet to be court-approved, Richard and Mary Donahue will compensate 13 female tenants affected by Richard Donahue’s actions with $500,000 in monetary damages.

Additionally, the defendants must actively seek to vacate any retaliatory eviction judgments against these tenants, rectify their credit histories, and permanently refrain from managing residential rental properties.

An independent property manager is mandated to oversee their rental properties during the decree’s duration. The defendants will also pay the maximum civil penalty of $123,695 to the government under the FHA.

Allegations and Legal Proceedings:

The lawsuit alleged that, since at least 2000, Richard Donahue engaged in persistent and unwelcome sexual harassment, including making explicit comments, non-consensual touching, and coercive demands for sexual activity in exchange for rent and housing-related benefits.

The complaint further outlined adverse actions taken against tenants who resisted Donahue’s advances or reported the harassment.

The case was initiated in May 2022 and handled jointly by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Justice Department’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative:

The lawsuit aligns with the Justice Department’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative, aimed at addressing, deterring, and raising awareness about sexual harassment by individuals controlling housing situations.

Since the initiative’s launch in October 2017, the department has filed 38 lawsuits, recovering over $11.8 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing.

Enforcement of Fair Housing Act:

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in collaboration with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, enforces the FHA, prohibiting housing discrimination based on various factors.

Individuals can report sexual harassment or housing discrimination by contacting the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-833-591-0291 or submitting a report online.

HUD can also be reached at 1-800-669-9777, and complaints can be filed online. More information about the Civil Rights Division is available at www.justice.gov/crt.