A Minnesota property manager accused of sexually harassing female tenants will be barred from managing property as part of a $750,000 consent decree.
Renters had accused Reese Pfeiffer, landlord and property manager for the company Fruen & Pfeiffer, of making unwanted comments and sexual advances towards them, touching their bodies and soliciting sexual favors in exchange for rent forgiveness, according to a civil suit brought by Legal Aid on behalf of the victims.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) followed up with its own lawsuit in September of 2020, naming Pfeiffer, Michael Fruen, Jeremy Martineau and their companies Fruen & Pfeiffer LLP and M. Fruen Properties as defendants.
The DOJ alleged they violated the Fair Housing Act due to "sexual harassment and discriminatory conduct against vulnerable tenants."
On Monday, the department announced it had obtained a consent decree (essentially, a legal agreement) from Pfeiffer and the other defendants to resolve the lawsuits brought by the DOJ and Legal Aid.
As part of the agreed-upon resolution:
- The 23 victims will receive a total of $736,000 in compensation from the defendants.
- The defendants will also pay a $14,000 civil penalty to the United States.
- Pfeiffer is prohibited from any type of property management.
- They will have to retain an independent, DOJ-approved property manager at the Twin Cities properties in question.
- Defendants will be trained on the Fair Housing Act.
Among the defendants, only Pfeiffer is directly accused of engaging in sexual misconduct. But the DOJ says his colleagues are "vicariously liable" for his actions, since he acted as their agent when he engaged in that behavior.
Legal Aid said Pfeiffer's behavior was directed mainly toward single, Black mothers who were renting the properties.
One of the women, Shatara Brown, said in a statement through Legal Aid Monday that Pfeiffer was "a very manipulative person,"
"I am pleased to know that he will never get a chance to harass any of his female tenants again," she said.
Said Rebecca Stillman, lead counsel for Legal Aid’s plaintiffs: “None of this would have been possible without the bravery, strength, and selflessness of our three clients and the witnesses who came forward. All of this is because of the time, energy, and work they put into this action in order to protect current and future victims of Pfeiffer’s sexual harassment. Working with them for the last two years has been an honor and privilege.”
The complaint alleged Pfeiffer "commented on female tenants’ looks and body parts, engaged in unwelcome touching, asked personal questions about their relationship status, made unwelcome sexual advances, discussed sexual topics without consent, and entered their homes under the pretense of collecting rent to solicit sexual favors.".
The Star Tribune says it managed to contact Pfeiffer on Monday, but he did not wish to comment.