The United States Department of Justice ("DOJ") has obtained a record judgment for violations of the federal Fair Housing Act ("Act") from a landlord in Missouri.
The DOJ filed a lawsuit against Bobby Veal ("Landlord") and his wife, Jewel Veal, alleging violations of the Act. Mr. and Ms. Veal were co-owners of various rental properties. Most of the Veal's tenants were lower-income, single women who had little choice in their housing options. The DOJ alleged sexual harassment in its lawsuit, as a number of current and former tenants had complained that the Landlord had demanded sexual favors from the women in return for their continued tenancy.
The Act is designed to eliminate from the housing marketplace discrimination against protected classes in the sale or leasing of housing. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has enacted regulations prohibiting sexual harassment in the housing market. Courts have interpreted the Act and its supporting regulations as prohibiting sexual harassment in the housing marketplace in the same way Title VII prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace.
The United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri conducted a trial and the jury returned a verdict totaling $1.1 million against the Landlord. At trial, eleven female former tenants testified against the Landlord about the sexual favors he had demanded from them, including one former tenant who testified that the Landlord had forced her to have sex in front of her children.
The verdict included awards to the eleven former female tenants who testified as well as punitive damages. The individual awards ranged from $10,001 to $310,000. The verdict was the largest ever obtained in a lawsuit brought pursuant to the Act. Following the verdict, the DOJ has filed motions with the court seeking that the Landlord turn his property over to an independent management company as well as additional relief.
United States of America v. Veal, 2005 WL 1541034 (W.D. Mo. 2004). [Note: This opinion was not published in an official reporter and therefore should not be cited as authority. Please consult counsel before relying on this opinion].