Atlantic City Landlord to Pay $25,000 for Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Against Hispanics

Sexual Harassment by an Atlantic City Landlord resulted in a February order for payment of $25,000 after a hearing before HUD Chief Administrative Law Judge Alan W. Heifetz. The HUD Charge alleged that the respondent discriminated against the complainant based on her sex and national origin and against her two children because of their national origin. Respondent Theodore DiCosmo was also charged with retaliation against complainants for asserting their rights under the Fair Housing Act.

Complainants Ivette Torres, her 17 year old daughter, and her 14 year old son, lived in the upper story of a two-family house located on Jackson Avenue in Atlantic City, N. J. in 1993. They are of Hispanic/Puerto Rican descent. They received a Section 8 rent subsidy and SSI disability and Public Assistance for the children. Respondent owned the house and lived on the lower level.

After the complainant and her family had lived there about three months, the landlord invited the complainant to come to watch his playboy channel on TV. He followed with other sexual language and obscene body gestures. She felt ashamed and humiliated by the incident and thought her landlord was a "dirty old Man." She avoided telling her family and friends about the incident for a month.

In March 1993, Complainants found their landlord was eavesdropping on their phone calls and that their phone was on a party line with their landlord. When they asked the phone company to install a private line, the landlord refused to allow the installa tion.

Respondent repeatedly entered the Torres apartment without their permission. On one occasion Ms. Torres has just entered the shower after her children left for school, when she heard her apartment door close. She came from the shower into her kitchen w ith only a towel in front of her. She found the landlord there and he propositioned her.

When the Torres children brought friends to their apartment, the landlord tried to block them and called them "niggers," "spics," and "nigger-ricans." The children's friends were afraid of the landlord and refused to visit. The landlord shouted racial a nd ethnic slurs at Ms. Torres' sister and blocked her entry to the apartment.

The 12 page Heifetz decision and order detailed the traumatic impact of the landlord's actions on Ms. Torres. She finally told her mental health counselor about the incidents. She said she "couldn't put up with that old man" and was "contemplating suic ide." She was referred to a psychiatrist, who treated her for anxiety and for inability to sleep.

The landlord's conduct had a severe effect on Efran, the 14 year old son. He became very angry over the shower incident. Judge Heifetz said, "He felt he could not protect her or put her at ease . . . He would cry out of anger because while he wanted t o protect his mother and sister, he felt helpless to do so." Later Heifetz, said ". . . although he considered himself to be the "man" of the house whose duty it was to protect his mother and sister, he realized that he was not powerful enough to fulfil l that responsibility."

Her 17 year old daughter Nilsa also felt a growing distance from her mother. She saw her mother become quiet and unresponsive, both to her and her brother. Because of these problems, Nilsa moved into a friend's apartment for two months, returning only after her mother promised to find another apartment.

The landlord continued his unwelcome sexual advances in the summer of 1993. When she refused his advances, he shouted profanities at her, calling her "whore," "bitch," "trash," and "dirty Puerto Rican."

In October 1993, Ms. Torres attempted to terminate her lease, but the landlord refused to sign the papers required by the Section 8 Program. Complainants sought help from a legal aid group. Upon learning that a complaint had been filed against him with HUD, the landlord interrupted the Torres' electric and water service.

Judge Heifetz ordered the landlord to pay $22,350 as follows: $16,000 to the mother Ivette Torres, $4,000 for the son Efran Roldan, and $2,500 to the daughter Nilsa Roldan. A civil penalty of $2,500 must be paid to HUD.

HUD ex. rel. Torres v. DiCosmo, HUD ALJ No. 02-93-0356-8

Filed with HUD 7-22-93

HUD Charge Issued 7-22-94