On Friday, lawyers for 19 women who alleged that employees of Baltimore’s public housing agency demanded sex in return for critical housing repairs announced a settlement for all victims of sexual harassment in public housing.
Besides a financial award between $6 million and $7.5 million, the settlement required Baltimore to fire and ban all the abusers from Housing Authority property and move the plaintiffs into livable homes. The Housing Authority also created 50 new maintenance positions with new policies and procedures, and cut down their backlog of repairs from over 4,000 to 1,500.
The lawsuit, filed in September, alleged that maintenance men demanded sex from women living in public housing before they would make repairs to their “deplorable conditions,” which included rodent and insect infestations, lack of heat, mold, and electrocution risks. It also claims that at least one employee threatened a woman with violence if she didn’t give into his demands for sex, while another offered a woman cash for sex. The men also allegedly tried to intimidate women out of requesting repairs by sexually harassing them.
“These victims are too poor to move out and relocate their families,” the complaint says. “Consequently, they are left with the impossible choice of either succumbing to unwanted sexual demands in order to save themselves and their children from life-threatening conditions in their homes, or, living in squalor.”
Reportedly, women of nearly all ages — under-aged to in their 50s — and both the disabled and able-bodied were targeted by the harassment and abuse. “These affronts are about power and control over the most vulnerable members of society, including the poor, the young, and the disabled,” the complaint states.
“The practice of demanding sex for repairs is so widespread that it is a pattern of practice by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City,” the complaint says, “whose housing officials have repeatedly turned their backs on the most vulnerable city residents.” It claims that officials ignored “numerous” complaints and let the men keep their jobs for years: an email with a complaint from one of the plaintiffs reached the housing authority’s inspector general as early as December 31, 2013. More than 10 complaints were filed.
Since the lawsuit was filed, two maintenance employees, Clinton Coleman and Michael Robertson, have been fired. The head of the city’s public housing authority, Paul Graziano, has also set up a hotline for victims to call and anonymously report future abuse. Even so, residents have called for Graziano’s resignation.
This is just the latest abuse to be uncovered in a series of harrowing discoveries about the squalor those living in Baltimore’s public housing have been subjected to, from lead poisoning to widespread foreclosure and eviction