Justice Department Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Morgantown, West Virginia, Landlords
The Justice Department recently announced a settlement with the owners and former managers of more than 70 residential rental properties in the Morgantown, West Virginia area to resolve allegations that Gary Walden, while serving as the manager of these properties, sexually harassed female tenants and prospective tenants, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Under the settlement, which was approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, the defendants have agreed to pay a total of $600,000 in monetary damages and civil penalties, and Walden intends to transfer his ownership of these properties and to relinquish his role in managing them.
“It is unacceptable that a woman should have to endure sexual harassment by her landlord in her own home,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This settlement sends a strong message that the Civil Rights Division will aggressively pursue those who engage in this egregious conduct.”
“This type of conduct can never be tolerated in the Northern District of West Virginia or elsewhere,” said Acting United States Attorney Betsy Steinfeld Jividen of the Northern District of West Virginia. “And while the monetary settlement will not erase the unthinkable violations outlined in this case, it will put all on notice that those who choose to violate anyone’s civil rights will face consequences.”
The settlement requires the defendants to pay $500,000 to persons harmed by the discriminatory conduct and $100,000 to the United States in civil penalties. Walden will be enjoined from engaging in any property management, rental management, or maintenance responsibilities at the rental properties, and from entering the premises or having any contact with current or former tenants of the rental properties, including any individuals determined to be aggrieved persons.
Individuals who believe they were subjected to sexual harassment by Walden should contact the Justice Department (“the department”) at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox 97, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
The lawsuit arose when four female tenants filed complaints about Walden with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), which referred the complaints to the department. After conducting an investigation, the department filed this lawsuit in March 2016, alleging that Walden sexually harassed multiple female residents and prospective residents from at least July 2006 through July 2015. According to the department’s complaint, Walden engaged in unwanted and unwelcome sex acts with female tenants, including touching and groping their breasts and genitals; conditioned tangible housing benefits to female tenants in exchange for performance of sex acts; made unwanted and unwelcome sexual comments and verbal sexual advances; entered the homes of female tenants without permission or notice to sexually harass them; and took or threatened to take adverse action against female tenants when they refused or objected to his sexual advances.
The department’s lawsuit names Walden, the estate of his late wife, Tina Walden, and business entities associated with the Waldens’ property ownership and management business, including Walden Homes, LLC, d/b/a Walden Rentals, and 973 Chestnut Ridge Road, Inc. In April 2015, Gary Walden pled guilty to sexual abuse and other charges in the Circuit Court of Monongalia County, West Virginia, and was incarcerated for those offenses from July 2015 to March 2017 in a state prison. In 2006, the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office filed a housing discrimination lawsuit in state court against Walden alleging sexual harassment, which was settled in 2008.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination elsewhere should call the department at 1-800-896-7743, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.