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DOJ increases efforts to combat sexual harassment during COVID-19 pandemic

From Staff Reports

U.S. Attorney J. Douglas Overbey is asking anyone who has witnessed or experienced sexual harassment by a landlord, property manager, maintenance worker, or anyone with control over housing to report that conduct to the Department of Justice.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the ability of many people to pay rent on time and has increased housing insecurity. The Department of Justice has heard reports of housing providers trying to exploit the crisis to sexually harass tenants. Sexual harassment in housing is illegal, and the Department of Justice stands ready to investigate such allegations and pursue enforcement actions where appropriate.

“Those that seek to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic in order to sexually harass and threaten their occupants and renters must be stopped. Our offices will continue to work with our local, state, and federal partners to investigate, prevent, and prosecute any housing provider seeking to take advantage of their vulnerable tenants during this time of crisis,” said Overbey.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Eastern Tennessee will work closely with state and local partners to identify incidents of sexual harassment in housing.

The Justice Department’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative is an effort to combat sexual harassment in housing 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 sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers or other people who have control over housing.

Launched in 2017, the Initiative has filed lawsuits across the county alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing and recovered millions of dollars in damages for harassment victims. The Justice Department’s investigations frequently uncover sexual harassment that has been ongoing for years. Many individuals do not know that being sexually harassed by a housing provider can violate federal law or that the Department of Justice may help.

The Department of Justice, through the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices, enforces the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. Sexual harassment is a sex discrimination prohibited act.

The Department encourages anyone who has experienced sexual harassment in housing, or knows someone who has, to contact the Civil Rights Division by calling 844-380-6178 or emailing [email protected]

Individuals who believe they may have been victims of discrimination may also contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee at https://www.justice.gov/usao- edtn/victim-witness-assistance

Individuals may also file a complaint alleging harassment or discrimination in housing with the Department of Housing and Urban Development through HUD’s website or by calling 800-669-9777.