Jury Awards Victim $31,452 in Sexual Harassment Case

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Fair Housing Advocates Association
520 S. Main St. #2459
Akron, OH 44311-1076

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(May 14, 2002) -- On April 11, 2002, a Court of Common Pleas jury found landlords, Tom and Jeannie Cennamo of Mount Vernon, Ohio guilty of sexual harassment and retaliation based on a fair housing counterclaim lawsuit filed in Knox County Court of Common Pleas by civil rights attorney, Andrew L. Margolius, on behalf of Jennifer Deem, a single parent female. The counterclaim lawsuit that was filed on October 4, 2000, in response to the landlords’ attempt to evict Ms. Deem, alleged that the landlords violated Ms. Deem’s state and federal fair housing rights by:

I. Creating a hostile housing environment

A. Implicitly and explicitly conditioning services and continued rental terms and conditions upon sexual activity and invitations.

B. Forcing her to have sex and threatening loss of her HUD subsidy for non-compliance.

II. Retaliating, Interfering, Coercing, and Intimidating

A. Conditioning sex or sexually related activity upon residency, threatening loss of Section 8 through false or exaggerated complaints about her, by subjecting her to sexually related conditions in order to gain services and maintenance. 

B. Denying her the right to renew her lease as a result of her complaining about the sexual harassment by Mr. Cennamo.

III. Denying of Same Terms and Conditions

A. By subjecting her to eviction and sexual harassment giving her substantially less favorable terms and conditions of housing than a man or tenant who had not complained of sexual harassment.

In July 2000, the Fair Housing Advocates Association (FHAA) conducted an investigation of Ms. Deem’s allegations. The results of the investigation showed that no adverse action was taken against her until after she had begun to complain about the alleged sexual harassment. The investigation also showed that Mr. Cennamo did not really deny engaging in sexually activity with Ms. Deem, but accused her of being the “aggressor.”

After a three day trial that ended on Thursday, April 11, 2002, a Knox County jury decided in favor of the plaintiff, Jennifer Deem. It awarded her $452.00 in compensatory damages and $31,000.00 in punitive damages. In making its finding the jury ruled that Tom and/or Jeannie Cennamo:

1. Had retaliated against Ms. Deem. 

2. Had created a hostile housing environment for Ms. Deem. 

3. Had subjected Ms. Deem to quid pro quo or “this for that” sexual harassment.

Says Vincent B. Curry, FHAA executive director, “We are pleased that the jury saw through the defense’s smokescreens of trying to portray the landlords as the victims and Ms. Deem as the predator - That type of defense shows why victims of sex discrimination are often hesitant about coming forward. Our attorney did an excellent job in presenting the case and the evidence clearly. The jury looked at the evidence that we obtained and then came to the right decision. This verdict should send at least two messages. The first is that victims of sex discrimination and harassment do not have to stay victims - they can fight and win. The second is that landlords who do engage in such horrible activity will be held accountable for their actions.”

Many victims of sexual harassment are single parent females who are victimized by landlords who have the power to house them or make them homeless. Ms. Deem took the abuse because she did not want to risk homelessness. She wanted her daughter to have a place to live.