Marin Tenant Wins $39,000 for Sexual Harassment

The Fair Housing Program of the Marin Housing Center has settled a lawsuit charging sexual harassment at a San Rafael apartment complex for $39,000. In the July settlement, the plaintiff (who remains anonymous due to the nature of this case) received the award in lieu of a civil suit she filed against the apartment manager, and Sundial Broadcasting Corporation, owner of the complex.

The plaintiff contended that her civil rights were violated through, among other causes, sexual harassment. The complaint was lodged against the apartment manager, under the employ of Sundial. The plaintiff alleged that the owners had repeatedly ignored her claims of sexual harassment, as well as those of other tenants.

According to the plaintiff, she was first offered an apartment in 1990, at a reduced rent of $350 a month (versus $550) if she accepted a position as Assistant Manager. She responded to the manager, whom she had briefly dated several years ago, that she was interested in the apartment only on a professional basis. The apartment was not made available to her.

Would Not Be Manager's Girlfriend

In May or June of 1991, the manager told the plaintiff that a unit was becoming available. The plaintiff was staying with a friend and needed housing desperately. She signed a rental agreement and moved into the apartment July 1, 1991. She told the manager that she did not want to be his girlfriend.

She also wrote a document indicating that she was only a tenant and not moving in under the capacity of assistant manager. The second apartment was offered to her at the full rental rate, and she wanted to make no mistake about her status as a tenant and only a tenant. She emphasized that this was exclusively a tenant to manger arrangement.

From the time she moved into the unit, the plaintiff alleges that the manager continually employed foul and suggestive language and forcefully indicated that he was determined to resume a relationship with her. She refused all of his advances and attempted to maintain a friendly status to keep her housing.

In October of 1991, the manager painted the plaintiff's ceiling and again used foul and abusive language directed against her. When he returned to check the ceiling, he assaulted the plaintiff, throwing her onto the bed. She fought him off, however, though terrified, and was subsequently told by the manager that he would consider her having sexual relations with him as suitable "payment" for his work.

He continued to harass the plaintiff, calling her names, and began giving her eviction notices. She contacted the San Rafael Police Department. They suggested that she obtain a restraining order and write to the owners. She wrote a letter to the owners, which was ignored. Thereafter, the manager's actions became more emphatic and forceful; her already pronounced fear for her safety became more intensified. The plaintiff installed a chain lock, to keep him out of her apartment.

Manager Delayed Making Repairs

From this point, the manager delayed repairs and consistently cursed at and upbraided the plaintiff when she made requests to have something fixed. He also jumped onto her car in the parking lot in an attempt to prevent her from leaving the premises.

On at least one occasion, the manager entered the plaintiff's apartment without her consent; he also left numerous messages on her answering machine, cursing at her, and once, threaten to have her evicted. The plaintiff told Helen Davis, one of the owners of the complex, in writing, of the actions of the manager. Ms. Davis and the owners of the complex failed to investigate; or take any action against the manager. Instead, the owners ratified and assisted his actions by keeping him in a managerial position and supporting his managerial actions.

Due to the actions of the manager and the owners of the complex, the plaintiff alleges that she suffered severe trauma, emotional distress, economic damages, loss of full benefits of tenancy, violation of civil rights, and physical assault and battery. In March of 1992, the plaintiff contacted the Marin Fair Housing Program. She was assisted in filing a sex discrimination complaint with HUD but it was withdrawn when a private suit was filed

Nancy Kenyon, Fair Housing Program Director, noted: "For those who rent, a violation of the sanctity of the home is doubly frightening. When the intrusion is sexually motivated, our very being is threatened."