Hoosiers who have experienced harassment or discrimination because of the COVID-19 pandemic are urged to report those incidents to the U.S. Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Coordinator, U.S. Attorney Josh J. Minkler announced.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana noted that vulnerable community members have been impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing public health emergency, particularly individuals struggling to pay rent or facing housing insecurity.
It is a violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act for housing providers, including landlords and managers, to exploit this crisis by sexually harassing tenants in exchange for rent or other housing needs, Minkler’s office stated in a Monday press release.
“Enforcing our nation’s civil rights laws is one of the top priorities in my office,” Minkler said. “We must remain vigilant and work together in this area, especially during this public health crisis. COVID-19 has affected all races, religions, ethnicities, and those with disabilities. Please help us address any suspected discrimination, as we enforce the laws that prohibit such behavior.”
According to Minkler’s office, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed lawsuits nationwide where a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing is alleged, with investigations frequently uncovering sexual harassment that has been ongoing for years.
The Justice Department’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative, led by the Civil Rights Division, aims to address sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers or other people who have control over housing.
Minkler asked that people who have experienced or witnessed discrimination report their experiences to the Civil Rights Coordinator in his office, or to the Civil Rights Division.
“Many individuals do not know that being sexually harassed by a housing provider can violate federal law or that the Department of Justice may be able to help,” Minkler’s press release says.
Discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, and other protected classes is unlawful under several federal laws, in addition to the FHA, and may result in criminal or civil liability. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by FHA.
Further, violent acts of hate based upon these and other protected classes violate federal hate crimes statutes. Discrimination can arise in many different contexts in addition to housing, including education, employment, health and safety, and places of public accommodation.
Hoosiers who believe they are a victim of discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, or other protected classes can find information about how to file a complaint here and here.
Additionally, anyone who has experienced sexual harassment in housing, or knows someone who has, can email [email protected]