On December 10, 2014, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in federal court against Southeastern Community and Family Services, Inc. (formerly Four-County Community Services, Inc.), and two of its employees alleging repeated acts of sexual harassment. Southeastern Community and Family Services is a public housing agency that administers the Section 8 voucher program in Scotland County, North Carolina. The two employees named in the suit are John Wesley, the Section 8 housing coordinator, and Eric Pender, a housing inspector. The suit alleges that Wesley and Pender have repeatedly sexually harassed female voucher program participants and applicants, in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.
The DOJ’s lawsuit is similar to a pending federal case brought against the same three defendants by a number of female Section 8 voucher holders and others who allege that from 2011 to 2013, Wesley and Pender demanded sexual favors in exchange for granting the vouchers and conducting favorable home inspections. That earlier lawsuit also alleges that Wesley and Pender visited the women’s homes to solicit sex, made sexually suggestive phone calls, exposed themselves, touched the women sexually without their consent, and retaliated against the women after they made complaints about the behavior. The women in the earlier lawsuit are represented by attorneys from the Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina as well as Greensboro-based attorney Craig Hensel, and Chris Brancart, from California.
According to the Department of Justice press release announcing the filing of the new lawsuit:
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, alleges, among other things, that Wesley and Pender have subjected voucher program participants and applicants to unwanted sexual comments, sexual touching and other sexual acts, conditioned or offered Section 8 benefits in exchange for sexual acts and took adverse housing actions against those who rebuffed their sexual advances. As alleged in the complaint, Pender and Wesley have engaged in this conduct while exercising their authority as employees of Southeastern Community and Family Services (SCFS), and SCFS has failed to take reasonable preventive or corrective measures.
“No one, including those who seek public assistance for housing benefits, should be subjected to sexual harassment, particularly by the very people tasked with providing critical assistance,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue its vigorous enforcement of the Fair Housing Act against those who abuse their power and authority.”
“To invade the safety and security of someone’s home with sexually harassing and other abhorrent behavior will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney Ripley Rand for the Middle District of North Carolina. “The goal of this lawsuit is to vindicate the rights of those subjected to the types of shameful conduct alleged in the Complaint – conduct that is a violation both of federal law and of basic human decency.”
The suit seeks monetary damages to compensate victims, civil penalties, and a court order barring future discrimination and requiring additional preventive measures.
To read the DOJ’s press release, click here.
To read the DOJ’s complaint in the federal lawsuit, click here.
To read more about the related lawsuit being handled by the Fair Housing Project, Craig Hensel, and Chris Brancart, click here.