Lawsuit: Maintenance men demanded sex for repairs in public housing

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(CNN) — A young single mother arrived at Gilmor Homes in 2008 after fleeing an abusive relationship.

She says she quickly found herself in another.

The woman, and six others, allege in a federal lawsuit filed Monday that maintenance men at the Baltimore public housing project traded sexual favors in return for much-needed repairs.

The young mother felt like she had no choice but to give in to the demands of a Gilmor Homes’ maintenance employee.

He and another maintenance worker, plus the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC), and Paul Graziano, the authority’s executive director, are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

“By refusing to perform repairs without sexual quid pro quo, these defendants are subjecting the tenants to life threatening living conditions including, but not limited to: mold, lack of heat, rodent and insect infestations and risk of electrocution.

“These victims are too poor to move out and relocate their families. Consequently, they are left with the impossible choice of either succumbing to unwanted sexual demands in order to save themselves and their children from life-threatening conditions in their homes, or, living in squalor,” the suit reads.

The women claim that HABC ignored numerous complaints and allowed the alleged abusers to stay in positions of power. They are seeking some $10 million each in damages.

It was not immediately clear whether the maintenance men had retained representation.

HABC issued a statement saying that Graziano was aware of the allegations and “finds them very disturbing.

“HABC considers any employee actions that would subject its residents to sexual abuse or sexual harassment to be reprehensible,” it read.

“HABC takes the safety and well-being of its residents very seriously. The agency continues to actively conduct an internal investigation of the alleged sexual abuse; however, details of this pending personnel investigation cannot be disclosed.”

Cart Hansel, an attorney for the women, told CNN that the alleged abuse has been happening for years. The women did not go to the police.

The case was brought to light because of an investigation by the grassroots group Communities United. It became involved in the housing project in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, who had lived at Gilmor Homes, the suit says.

Gray, a young black man from Baltimore, suffered a fatal injury while in police custody earlier this year. His death ignited riots and reignited a national conversation about race and policing.

“This is West Baltimore … The feeling is that they are not well served by police,” Hansel said. “The women were afraid, scared, and didn’t know who to turn to.”