The plaintiff, Amanda Rike, sued her landlord, Lewis Harris, alleging sexual discrimination in the form of sexual harassment in violation of the Fair Housing Act. According to Rikes complaint and testimony, Harris approached her after she had been arguing with her roommate. She was upset. Harris put his arm around Rike and touched her inappropriately.
Landlord offered to exchange sex for rent
Harris then explained that he would be willing to accept sexual favors from Rike in exchange for her rent, because he knew that she had recently lost her job. Harris explained that he had other tenants who had accepted similar offers in the past. Rike was so disturbed by Harriss conduct and afraid for her safety that she left her apartment following the incident and returned only to pack her belongings and vacate the premises.
Rike also testified that she believed Harris had entered her apartment when she wasnt home and rummaged through her personal belongings. Another female tenant testified on Rikes behalf and asserted that Harris had made sexual advances toward her and other female tenants. Despite the evidence, Harris challenged the jurys punitive damages award, insisting that he had not acted maliciously, wantonly or oppressively. Judge Jones disagreed, noting in a decision that he believed Harris actions were "motivated by evil intent and a callous indifference for Rikes federally protected rights."
Harris also argued against the awarding of attorneys fees, claiming that if the attorney had worked on a contingency basis, she would have received less money. Harris also argued that the attorneys fees were larger than the jurys verdict and should therefore be reduced. Judge Jones ruled against Harris on both arguments and granted Rikes application for attorneys fees. Her attorney, Hilary K. Johnson, submitted an affidavit showing that she had worked 51.7 hours on Rikes case and had charged $150 per hour. Judge Jones found both figures to be reasonable.
Judge Jones further noted in his decision to award attorneys fees that in civil rights cases, attorneys fees can serve as a deterrent to prevent future acts of discrimination. Judge Jones also wrote that even though it was not a factor to be considered when determining whether to award attorneys fees, that the jury indicated on its verdict form that it wished to award Rike her "attorney fee in full."
Rike v. Harris
Case No. 1:00CV00164 (W.D. Va)
The Honorable James P. Jones, U.S. District Judge
Hilary K. Johnson, attorney for plaintiff
William P. Sheffield, attorney for defendant