$365,000 settlement announced in KCK Housing Authority sexual harassment case

A settlement has been announced in a sexual harassment lawsuit involving residents of the Kansas City, Kansas, Housing Authority.

According to an announcement today by the U.S. Justice Department, the Housing Authority and three of its former employees have agreed to pay $365,000 to resolve the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the justice department in 2015.

Under the settlement, the KCK Housing Authority, former administrator coordinator Victor Hernandez, former property manager Derrick Estelle Sr., and former director of housing management Ronald Cobb will pay $360,000 in monetary damages to 14 current and former Housing Authority residents and applicants who were subjected to sexual harassment, as well as $5,000 to the United States in civil penalties.

The settlement also requires KCKHA to conduct training, to adopt new policies and procedures to prevent sexual harassment by its employees, and to provide a mechanism by which tenants and applicants can register complaints about sexual harassment with KCKHA management.

“Sexual harassment of women is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John M. Gore of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a news release. “No one should ever have to endure the type of outrageous conduct that occurred in this case in exchange for obtaining or keeping a place to live.”

“No woman should be subjected to harassment in her own home. This action sends a message to all housing providers that not only is this type of behavior unacceptable and immoral, it is illegal,” said HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Anna Maria Farías, in the news release. “HUD will continue to work to protect the fair housing rights of victims of harassment.”

This matter began when two female public housing tenants filed complaints about Hernandez with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. After HUD investigated the complaints, it issued a charge of discrimination and the matter was referred to the Justice Department. During its investigation, the department identified additional KCK Housing Authority applicants and tenants who had been sexually harassed by Hernandez, Estelle or Cobb. Among other things, the department’s complaint alleged that Hernandez subjected women to unwanted sexual conduct as a condition for favorable hearing decisions, including asking them sexual questions, showing pornographic pictures and videos, making explicit sexual comments, and exposing himself. Hernandez admitted in sworn testimony that he had exposed himself to multiple women during appeals hearings concerning their housing.

The complaint also alleged that Estelle and Cobb explicitly conditioned housing benefits in return for sexual favors and made repeated unwelcome and offensive sexual advances to women residing in or applying for public housing. The complaint further alleged that Hernandez, Estelle, and Cobb engaged in this conduct while exercising their authority as employees of the KCK Housing Authority.

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