Oregon woman wins $70,000 sex harassment settlement

An Oregon woman won a $70,000 settlement in March that resolved her federal lawsuitaccusing the owners and managers of a Hillsboro, Oregon apartment complex of sexualharassment. The settlement, reached through private mediation, includes $30,000 inattorney's fees.

The lawsuit, filed in May 1996, accused the owners and managers of thecomplex of violating the federal Fair Housing Act and state fair housing laws. A separate,criminal charge of assault and battery was also filed.

The woman who filed the lawsuit asserted that she was sexually harassed atthe apartment complex from the moment she moved into it. In her complaint, she detailedthe numerous acts of harassment allegedly committed by the complex's property manager.Those acts, she claimed, forced her to live in a hostile environment, and includedunwanted sexual touching, frequent and unannounced appearances at her apartment, repeatedunwelcome invitations for a romantic relationship, and repeated remarks about her physicalappearance.

Cell phone records showed that manager called woman repeatedly
The woman also said that the manager called her many times from his cellular phone. Themanager denied ever calling the woman, but phone company records showed that he had, infact, called her from his cellular phone many times.

The complainant also said in her complaint that she was never told who the owners ofthe building were and did not have any means to report the alleged harassment that wastaking place. The acts of harassment became so severe, the woman claimed, that she feltunsafe in her apartment and eventually moved. Her complaint asserted that the owners ofthe building have a responsibility to protect their tenants.

The complainant contacted a fair housing specialist at Community Action Organizationand explained her situation. The Community Action Organization then referred the woman toBarbara Diamond, a Portland attorney who represented her in her case against the complex.

Diamond, who works at the Portland firm of Smith, Gamson, Diamond, &Olney, commented on the woman's case and the difficulty of winning sexual harassment casesfiled under the Fair Housing Act. Diamond said, "These cases usually come down to `hesaid/she said.' You have to show that one side or the other is lying." Diamond lateradded, "These cases can be very difficult for the plaintiff. It's very embarrassingto discuss something personal like that."

Attorney warns that there is often more than one victim
To win sexual harassment cases, according to Diamond, attorneys and investigators mustconduct a thorough investigation. "The key to success," she said, "isfinding information that will convince the owners and insurance companies that you have asolid case." Diamond said that locating a second victim is often the best evidenceyou can have. Diamond had located another victim during this case and had a swornstatement from her which she introduced during mediation. Diamond said that harassers areusually not caught after their first act of harassment. "Often, there's anothervictim out there," she said.

Private mediation is a good way to resolve fair housing claims for bothparties
Diamond said that she and her client had offered to mediate the complaint before thelawsuit was filed, but the owners and managers of the complex refused. Diamond said thatonce she was able to convince the owners that the manager was lying, they were ready tosettle. Agreeing to private mediation was a key factor in obtaining a good settlement,according to Diamond.