New York - The Department of Justice today announced that Douglas S. Waterbury and his co-defendants will be obligated to pay $850,000 in damages and civil penalties to resolve two Fair Housing Act lawsuits alleging that Waterbury sexually harassed numerous female tenants and prospective tenants for nearly three decades at properties he owned in and around Oswego, New York. The Department filed one of the lawsuits and a group of private plaintiffs brought the other.
Under the Consent Decree in United States of America v. Douglas S. Waterbury, et al., which still must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, Defendants have agreed to pay a total of $450,000, which includes $400,000 in monetary damages to former tenants and potential tenants who were harmed as a result of the sexual harassment, as well as a $50,000 civil penalty. Additionally, the Defendants will pay $400,000 to compensate nine plaintiffs in the related private suit. The Consent Decree also bars Douglas Waterbury from participating in the rental or management of residential properties.
“The sexual harassment of the vulnerable female applicants and tenants in this case by their landlord is an egregious and intolerable violation of federal civil rights law,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “The Department of Justice will continue to pursue any depraved landlords and others who prey upon vulnerable women.”
“No woman should have to endure harassment and discrimination to obtain housing,” said Grant C. Jaquith, United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York. “Landlords who sexually harass their tenants in our district will be held accountable under the Fair Housing Act.”
The Department’s complaint, filed in 2018, alleged that Douglas Waterbury, his business partner, and two related entities operated an extensive real estate business involving more than 50 residential rental properties in and around Oswego, New York. The lawsuit further alleged that Douglas Waterbury subjected former tenants and potential tenants of these homes to sexual harassment, including unwanted sexual intercourse, sexual advances and comments, groping or other touching of their bodies without consent, and offers to reduce or eliminate security deposits and rent in exchange for sexual contact. The complaint further alleged that Waterbury took or threatened to take adverse action against residents when they refused or objected to his advances.
In October 2017, the Justice Department launched an initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing. In April 2018, the Department of Justice announced the nationwide rollout of the initiative, including three major components: an outreach toolkit to leverage the Department’s nationwide network of U.S. Attorney’s Offices, a public awareness campaign, including the launch of a national Public Service Announcement, and a new joint Task Force with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to combat sexual harassment in housing.
Since launching the initiative, the Department of Justice has filed 10 lawsuits alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing. The Justice Department has filed or settled 15 sexual harassment cases since January 2017, and has recovered over $2.6 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing.