An Eleventh Circuit panel recently held that sexual harassment claims are actionable as sex-based discrimination under the Fair Housing Act where the claimant can demonstrate that she would not have been subject to harassment but for her sex.
The appellant alleged that her property manager wrongfully evicted her after she ended their sexual relationship, which began when the property manager offered to rent the apartment to the appellant in exchange for a kiss. The district court dismissed the appellant’s complaint, arguing that despite the sufficiency of the allegations and legal precedent in other Circuits, the plain language of the Fair Housing Act does not provide a cause of action for sexual harassment.
The Eleventh Circuit overturned the district court’s decision and joined the Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits in recognizing sexual harassment as sex-based discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act. In reaching its decision, the panel looked to interpretations of Title VII, which uses language similar to the Fair Housing Act’s to prohibit discrimination “because of” a claimant’s sex. The Supreme Court and Eleventh Circuit have each held previously that in the Title VII context, “because of” denotes “but for” causation; i.e., where harassment would not have occurred but for the claimant’s sex, it amounts to actionable sex discrimination. The Eleventh Circuit panel applied this interpretation to the Fair Housing Act, holding that sexual harassment, which includes both a hostile housing environment and quid pro quo harassment, is actionable under the Fair Housing Act, where the claimant can demonstrate it would not have occurred but for the claimant’s sex.
The case was remanded to the district court to determine whether the appellant’s complaint adequately alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act.