Sexual Harassment: Oregon Legal Aid Case Settled For $28,000

Multnomah County Legal Aid Service and private attorney Zachary Zabinsky have settled for $28,000 a case involving sexual harassment of a female tenant by the manager of an apartment complex in Portland, Oregon. The federal district court case, brought under the Fair Housing Act and state law, was settled in July, 1994. The plaintiff would prefer to remain anonymous. The defendants were W. Whitmore, the apartment complex manager, and A. Kamasz, the owner of the complex.

The plaintiff, a Cambodian immigrant, moved into the apartment complex managed by Mr. Whitmore in September, 1991. She testified at her deposition that Mr. Whitmore soon began to make sexual comments to her, telling her that he would like to make love to her and hold her tight. In the months that followed, he asked her to watch x-rated movies with him and told her she would not have to pay rent if she had sex with him.

The plaintiff testified at her deposition that in April, 1992, Mr. Whitmore approached her in the parking lot of the complex and made crude sexual remarks to her. After this incident, she complained to the owner's son, who promised that he would talk to his father and see that the problem was resolved. However, Mr. Whitmore continued to sexually harass the plaintiff. According to the plaintiff, Mr. Whitmore, allegedly in her apartment for maintenance reasons, on one occasion stroked her hair, and on another briefly barred her passage from the apartment. The plaintiff testified that she made another complaint to the owner's son, and again nothing happened. In May, 1993, the plaintiff moved because of continuing harassment.

The defendants denied most of the plaintiffs factual allegations. A key dispute in the case concerned when the plaintiff first complained to the owner's son. The owner and his son maintained that the plaintiff first complained only shortly before she moved. The plaintiffs account of the timing of her complaints to the owner's son was supported by another former tenant.

The case was settled through mediation after the plaintiffs counsel engaged in a substantial amount of discovery.

According to James Wrigley of Multnomah County Legal Aid Service, co-counsel in the case, "We are getting more and more complaints of sexual harassment by managers and owners of low-income apartment complexes. Poor women who cannot afford moving expenses and have many other problems are particularly vulnerable to this kind of housing discrimination."

[Nem v. Whitmore and Kamasz, Civ. No. 93-1629 HA]