The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit accusing a Milwaukee property manager of discriminating against a gay tenant with a disability by making sexually harassing, homophobic comments and more.
The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, alleges that Dennis Parker, the onsite manager, harassed the man both verbally and through numerous text messages during his tenancy. It further alleges that Parker struck the tenant in the groin and threatened to evict him in retaliation for reporting the harassment to the police. The lawsuit also names as defendants Leaf Property Investments LLC, which owns the property, and Sam Leaf, who manages the property. The tenant’s name has been kept confidential.
The property is a 19-unit rooming house; each tenant has a studio apartment with a kitchen, and they share bathrooms and common areas. The tenant in question is a gay man who has bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. He receives Social Security disability benefits.
When he applied to rent a unit, he told Parker he was gay and had a disability, and Parker said those factors would be no problem, according to the suit. The gay man, who also disclosed that he was a survivor of sexual assault and rape, moved into the property in April 2019. He and Parker were on good terms for several months, but beginning in December of that year, Parker began making sexually harassing remarks such as “I would love to fuck you until you scream” and “You should give me a blow job,” the suit says. Sometimes Parker yelled remarks like these at the tenant from a balcony across the street, the suit claims.
Parker also sent the man offensive text messages, calling him a “bitch ass pansy,” an “abomination,” and other slurs, according to the document. Some of the messages criticized the tenant for accepting disability benefits as well, dubbing him “a loser” and “a user” who is “scamming off the government,” the suit relates.
After the tenant called the police on Parker, resulting in a disorderly conduct charge, Parker retaliated with more text messages, yelling, and breaking windows, the suit says. One text message included an image of a lynching. In June 2020, he physically assaulted the tenant, punching him in the groin, for which he was charged with assault and battery. The tenant moved out in July 2020.
In September 2020, the gay man filed a housing discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleging discrimination based on sex, including sexual orientation, and disability. HUD investigated and issued a formal charge of discrimination, in violation of the Fair Housing Act, in March of this year. In April, the man decided to have the matter resolved in federal court, and HUD referred the case to the Justice Department, resulting in the current suit. The suit seeks an order for Parker, Leaf, and the management company to cease discrimination, and for the court to award monetary damages, amount unspecified, to the former tenant.
“We stand ready to use our civil rights laws to combat all forms of sexual harassment in housing, including harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said on behalf of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in a press release. “The Justice Department will hold accountable landlords and housing providers who engage in unlawful discrimination and harassment of vulnerable tenants.”