Department of Justice Sues New York Apartment Owner and Superintendent for Years of Sexual Harassment

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against Stanley Katz, the owner and manager of three apartment buildings on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and William Barnason, the former superintendent of those buldings. The suit alleges violations of the Fair Housing Act in the form of an ongoing and pervasive campaign of sexual harassment and sexual assault against multiple female residents of the apartments over a period of years.

Barnason is a Level III registered sex offender who served fourteen years in prison for the sexual assault of several children and one adult. Katz employed Barnason as the superintendent of at least three apartment buildings for several years. The lawsuit complains of an atmosphere of sexual harassment fostered by both Katz and Barnason, and of specific acts of sexual harassment and even assault committed by Barnason.

Barnason is alleged to have demanded sexual relations with female residents in exchange for ordinary maintenance services, reductions in or forgiveness of rent, or even simply cessation of verbal abuse. Several residents allege that Barnason drugged a female resident and attempted to take her to a vacant apartment late at night until another resident intervened. Both defendants are said to have engaged in frequent verbal harassment of residents, referring to them as “hookers” and “whores.”

The government’s lawsuit asks the court to find that the defendants’ condict constitutes multiple violations of the Fair Housing Act, and that the conduct specifically amounts to a deprivation of rights guaranteed to the residents by the Fair Housing Act. The suit further asks for an injunction against further discrimination, and requests monetary damages, including punitive damages, and civil penalties against the defendants.

The Fair Housing Act, enacted as part of the civil rights laws in 1968, protects tenants, homeowners and home buyers from discriminatory practices by landlords, sellers, property managers, and lenders. The law prevents discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, gender, family status or handicap. It covers, among others, refusal to rent or sell a house or apartment based on those criteria, refusal to lend money, or setting different terms for sale or rental of a property. A person claiming damages resulting from discrimination covered by the law may recover their actual damages, and the court may subject a defendant found liable to civil penalties. The law also allows punitive damages, but courts tend to only do so in extreme and unusual circumstances, defined in at least one case as “when the defendant’s conduct is shown to be motivated by evil motive or intent, or when it involves reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of others.” Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 56 (1983).

The current lawsuit therefore alleges that the defendants attempted to set different standards or terms for the rental of apartments for female residents by repeatedly requesting sexual favors in exchange for basic services normally provided by a landlord or superintendent. A court will decide if the conduct of Katz and Barnason is sufficiently egregious to merit punitive damages.

New York sexual harassment attorney Joshua Friedman protects the rights of residents under the Fair Housing Act. Contact him today for a free and confidential consultation.

Convicted child rapist is Upper West Side super, New York Post, February 1, 2010
Sex Offender Works as Upper West Side Super, My Fox NY, February 1, 2010
Pervy super gets ax, New York Post, February 27, 2010
‘Pervy super’ lawsuit, New York Post, April 21, 2010

Web Resources:
Fair Housing–It’s Your Right, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Fair Housing Act, U.S. Department of Justice

More Blog Posts:
Sexual Harassment Suit Results in Largest Settlement in Washington County History, Sexual Harassment Lawyer Blawg, July 5, 2011
Sexual Harassment was Just the Beginning of Their Ordeal: Their Boss Calls them a “Liar” on TV, Sexual Harassment Lawyer Blawg, November 13, 2009
It Takes Courage to Speak Out About Sexual Harassment, Sexual Harassment Lawyer Blawg, October 10, 2009

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