Grace Hill Training Tip of the Week
Responding to Sexual Harassment Complaints
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects individuals against discrimination because of sex. Courts have consistently recognized sexual harassment as a form of discrimination that violates the FHA.
HUD aggressively pursues violations involving harassment in housing. In fact, since January 2017, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has filed or settled five cases and recovered over $1 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing.
Any individual or company that has witnessed or experienced housing discrimination, including sexual harassment, may file a complaint with HUD, free of charge. Complaints will often name individual property managers directly, in addition to the corporate entity or owner associated with the complainant’s housing. If a complaint has been filed against you, you will be notified by HUD, and you will have 10 days to respond. Here are some tips for staying on top of the situation, should you find yourself facing a complaint.
Prioritize mail from HUD. Due to the tight window a company has for responding to a complaint, make sure anyone responsible for collecting mail at your facilities is trained to give mail from HUD priority attention and to forward it to the appropriate person immediately.
Respond to complaints. Although filing an answer is not mandatory, it is strongly encouraged. Responding gives you an opportunity to give your version of the story and provide sufficient information that may convince HUD that it should not pursue the matter further.
Involve legal counsel early. Because your answer will become part of the official case record and any representations can and will be used against you in future proceedings, it is strongly encouraged that you seek the assistance of legal counsel in responding to a HUD complaint. In addition, legal counsel can likely negotiate an extension of time to respond.
Notify your insurance company early. As soon as you know a complaint has been filed, you should notify your insurance company. There may be insurance to cover the allegations of the complaint. If there is coverage, the insurance company will only be there to help you if they are notified early.
It is a situation we all hope we never have to face. However, in this time of increased awareness around harassment, it is important to have a game plan for a quick and appropriate response to harassment complaints.