The San Francisco Superior Court has recognized a tenant’s Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA) cause of action on allegations she was sexually harassed by another tenant.  In Battista v. NorthPoint Apartments, Plaintiff claims the harasser pursued her and when rebuffed he followed her to the laundry room several times and placed his hands on her, and that he stared at her from within his apartment, unclothed, using binoculars and fondling himself.  Although Plaintiff made multiple complaints, management refused to take any type of action against the harasser.

golden-gate-bridge-1433858-1-mDefendant demurred to this cause of action, which was overruled by the trial court.  Although FEHA does not contain specific language authorizing a claim of tenant on tenant harassment, FEHA is broadly interpreted to effectuate its purposes and  similar interpretations have been recognized in the past absent explicit language.  In Brown v. Smith (1997) 55 Cal.App.4th 767, 779, the trial court interpreted FEHA, which only proscribed “sex” discrimination in housing, to include “sexual harassment” despite there being no such specific language in the housing portion of the statute.  The Brown court, affirming the trial court in finding that FEHA nonetheless covers sexual harassment, relied upon:

• Statutory construction principles of reading the statutory scheme as a whole (55 Cal.App.4th at 777)
• In general, remedial statutes are construed liberally to accomplish the evident purpose of the legislation (55 Cal.App.4th at 778)
• Regarding employment, FEHA specifically proscribed “sexual harassment” (55 Cal.App.4th at 779)
• The Legislature’s policy statement “[T]he practice of discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, or disability in housing accommodations is declared to be against public policy.” (55 Cal.App.4th at 779 (citing Gov. Code § 12920)
• A comprehensive list of “housing accommodations provisions covered by Gov. Code § 12927, including the proscription of inferior terms, conditions or services in connection with the housing accommodations. (55 Cal.App.4th at 779)
• Nothing in the FEHA shall be construed to allow lesser rights than the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). FEHA provides greater rights and remedies than the FHA. (55 Cal.App.4th at 780 (citing Gov Code § 12955.6))
• FEHA “shall be construed liberally for the accomplishment of the purposes thereof.” (55 Cal.App.4th at 780-81 (citing Gov Code § 12993))

Continue reading