Female tenant settles sexual harassment suit against Indianapolis landlord

An Indianapolis landlord has agreed to pay nearly $46,000 to settle a lawsuit that alleged he proposed exchanging sex for rent from a female tenant who lost her job during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana has granted a consent decree in Abigail Savage and Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, Inc. v. Henry Long, 1:20-cv-02035.

As part of the settlement, Long did not admit any of the allegations but he agreed to a series of corrective actions. These actions include paying $45,900; hiring a property manager to handle the daily operations of his residential rental properties; not contacting or communicating with any current or potential tenants; and adopting a written policy prohibiting discrimination by any manager, employee or agent engaged in the operation or management of residential rental properties.

“We are pleased that justice has been gained for our client for the pain and harm she endured during such a vulnerable time,” Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, said in a press release. “The Fair Housing Center applauds her bravery for speaking up to stop these harmful practices from happening to anyone else.”

The attorneys identified on court documents as representing Long – Robert Kelso and Megan Ann Van Pelt of Kightlinger & Gray LLP – did not respond to a request for comment.

Judge James Hanlon of the Southern Indiana District Court approved the consent decree and dismissed the case Nov. 19. In the court order, Hanlon found the decree to be lawful, fair, reasonable and adequate.

“It details specific policies that address the allegations contained in the complaint and provides for extensive review and reporting to assure any future problems are promptly discovered and remedied,” Hanson wrote.

In August 2020, Abigail Savage and the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, Inc., filed a complaint against Long, who is the owner of several rental properties in Indianapolis and manager of the duplex where Savage lived.

Savage and her son had moved into the home in April 2019, according to the court filing. She paid rent every month, but when the COVID-19 public health emergency shuttered bar and restaurants, Savage was furloughed and lost most of her income. She was unable to pay her rent.

The complaint references a series of text messages between Savage and Long. She sent a message, explaining her situation and that she would probably not be able to pay her rent on time. During that conversation, Long allegedly propositioned Savage, asking her if she was going to spend all night with him. The complaint says after she questioned what he meant, Long admitted he was propositioning her in a sexual way.

Savage told Long his request was inappropriate and that she would be vacating the property.

In a later text series of text message, Savage told Long he had made her uncomfortable by suggesting she sleep with him for the rent.  Long replied, “You aren’t my type…plus I cant (sic) survive trading sex for rent..been a big misu understanding (sic)…but …is what it is… just pay what you should be paying me…”

The complaint asserts Long violated the federal Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. sectin 3601 et seq., and the Indiana Fair Housing Act, Indiana Code section 22-9.5-5.1, by discriminating against Savage because of her gender. The plaintiffs also claim Long’s alleged actions led to the constructive eviction of Savage.

In the lawsuit, Savage said she suffered emotional distress and did not have full use of her home because of the defendant’s conduct. In addition, FHCCI claimed it suffered injury because it had to divert resources to Savage’s case.

“With a worldwide pandemic underway, renters, now more than ever, should not have to experience such harmful discrimination in the comfort of their own homes,” Brady Ripperger, director of the fair housing program at FHCCI, said in a statement. “Sexual harassment in any housing-related transaction is unlawful under fair housing laws and should be addressed immediately.”

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