A Kentucky property manager and his wife have agreed to pay $48,000 in a case in which he was accused of sexually harassing female tenants at an apartment building she owned.
Gus and Penny Crank also agreed to pay a $2,000 penalty to the federal government, according to the court record.
Penny Crank co-owned a small apartment building in Dayton, in Northern Kentucky, and her husband managed it, collecting rent and making repairs, according to court records.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the couple under the federal Fair Housing Act in March 2019 alleging that Gus Crank had subjected women in the apartments to “severe, pervasive” sexual harassment.
Crank asked tenants to perform oral sex or other sex acts in order to keep their apartments; made sexual comments to them and touched them; coerced women into sexual contact; offered to cut tenants’ rent in exchange for sex; and threatened to evict them for refusing, the complaint alleged.
One woman moved out, leaving most of her belongings, after Crank touched her and told her there would be “consequences” if she told anyone, and another came home to find her belongings on the curb after Crank said he would evict her if she didn’t have sexual contact with him, the lawsuit charged.
The harassment involved four different women, the government alleged.
Some said they rebuffed Crank, but one said that several times, she performed oral sex on Crank or had sex with him because she was behind on the rent after he husband went to jail.
“I had to give him something so we didn’t go on the streets,” the woman said, according to the court record. Afterward, she said, she “would just sit in my room and cry.”
In their response to the lawsuit, Gus and Penny Crank said the aggrieved former tenants were barred from claiming sexual harassment because of their “voluntary and willing participation” in the type of conduct complained of in the lawsuit.
The couple denied any wrongdoing in their response, and the settlement with the government did not include an admission they did anything wrong.
Under the agreement, the couple must pay $12,000 each to four former tenants. Two have died, so the money is to go to their estates.
Penny Crank recently sold the building at issue in the case. The couple agreed not to buy any other property to be rented out, and not to engage in property management for a period.
U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman signed the settlement this week.
“No woman should ever have to endure sexual harassment to secure housing for herself or her family,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a news release.
The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Lexington handled the case.
The Department of Justice has an initiative to raise awareness about sexual harassment by people with control over housing, including landlords, managers, maintenance workers and loan officers.
The program has resulted in 22 lawsuits around the country since it started in October 2017, recovering more than $4 million for tenants, the department said.
People can report alleged sexual harassment in housing or other types of discrimination by calling 1-833-591-0291 or online.
People can also make discrimination reports online to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development or by calling 1-800-669-9777.
Don Wilkins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7299