- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

BALTIMORE (AP) - A handyman and supervisor for the Baltimore City Housing Authority routinely and systematically withheld necessary repairs from women who refused to have sex with them, creating a hostile environment and culture of fear in public housing complexes in the city, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of seven women living in public housing units in Baltimore, alleges the housing authority failed to address repeated complaints about a supervisor and a handyman who allegedly preyed on women living in squalid conditions in the housing units, offering repairs in exchange for sex. The suit alleges the men would withhold repairs from those who refused their advances, forcing them instead to live with rodent and insect infestations, dangerous mold, exposed wires and peeling paint.

While most of the alleged abuse took place in the Gilmor Homes, a housing complex in West Baltimore, the men were sometimes dispatched to other complexes and would victimize women there, the lawsuit says.

One woman alleged that after she rebuffed the supervisor’s proposition for sex, he told her, “You don’t want to get with me? You think you’re having problems now, just wait.”

Although the plaintiffs are named in the suit The Associated Press does not typically identify alleged victims of sexual abuse.

In a written statement Monday evening, Housing Authority of Baltimore City Executive Director Paul Graziano said he is aware of the allegations and finds them “extremely disturbing,” adding that the agency is actively conducting an internal investigation. The agency said it would not comment on personnel matters.

According to the suit, a 38-year-old Gilmor Homes resident said in an affidavit that after she filled out several work orders, the handyman came to her home and offered to pay her for a “date” before grabbing her breasts. The woman said she rejected his advances and reported the behavior to the property manager, Emma Scott, who told the woman only that next time she needed repairs, request that he not be sent to her home.

The woman said after she made the complaint, the handyman would wait outside her home “for long periods of time and stare at her house … to show her that he has time to do the repairs and could do the repairs if he wanted to, but chooses not to.” As a result, her pipes have been leaking for four years, she said, and the leaks have led to mold growth so serious that is has caused her to cough up blood.

Other women allege in the lawsuit that they reported the supervisor and handyman to Scott, who did not discipline the men or take them off duty.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Cary Hansel said the allegations were not reported to police.

The women are each asking for $10 million in damages.

Annie Hirsch, an attorney representing the women, said she hopes the lawsuit will help bring a measure of justice to those living in public housing in Baltimore.

“We’re looking at women who are victims, have limited means and resources and are primed for the picking,” she said. “It’s not just an issue of sexual quid pro quo or housing, but an issue of looking at people in our society who are at the highest risk for victimization. That shouldn’t happen especially when you’re looking at a system where the city is in charge of these homes, and of protecting these women.”

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