Seven women at a West Baltimore public housing complex filed a lawsuit Monday alleging that maintenance workers demanded sexual favors in return for repairing a gas leak, exterminating roaches and making other improvements.
In the lawsuit, the women say the abuse at Gilmor Homes was perpetuated primarily by maintenance supervisor Clinton Coleman and another worker. They say city Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano and other housing officials "ignored numerous complaints and repeatedly allowed abusers to maintain their positions of power."
The women are seeking more than $10 million each for each of about 15 counts.
Several outlined in affidavits their attempts to discuss the alleged abuse with housing officials. The women allege assault and violations of their constitutional and fundamental rights, including the right to physical security. They also claim violations of the Fair Housing Act.
None of the women have filed criminal charges.
Attempts to reach Coleman were unsuccessful.
Howard Libit, a spokesman for the Rawlings-Blake administration, said the housing department is investigating sexual harassment claims at Gilmor Homes but didn't offer any additional details.
"We take it very seriously," Libit said.
A spokeswoman for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City said Monday the agency is reviewing the lawsuit.
The authority said in a statement that Graziano is aware of the allegations at Gilmor Homes and "finds them extremely disturbing." The agency is conducting an internal investigation but declined to disclose details, saying it was a personnel matter.
The agency "considers any employee actions that would subject its residents to sexual abuse or sexual harassment to be reprehensible" and "takes the safety and well-being of its residents very seriously," according to the statement.
In the lawsuit, filed by attorneys Cary J. Hansel and Annie B. Hirsch, the women say the alleged abuse included sexual threats and occasions when Coleman allegedly exposed himself. The women say harassment and abuse occurred with a "high frequency" over several years and could continue in other city housing complexes.
The Baltimore Sun does not name alleged victims of sexual abuse.
"These Housing Authority employees routinely harass and abuse the vulnerable women in public housing," the women allege in the lawsuit. "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 and relocate their families," they continue. "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."
Hansel said the women continue to fear for their safety.
"These abusers hold tremendous power," the women said in the lawsuit. Coleman and other maintenance workers "possess keys to all of their victims' homes, which they utilize to come and go as they please, have the ability to have residents evicted, and the ability to ignore badly-needed repairs."
One woman alleged disability discrimination. The 54-year-old woman needs a cane to walk, but said she can't get the maintenance crew to install a ramp in her home or handholds in her bathroom.
The woman said that when she moved into the complex last year, a maintenance worker told her he wouldn't make repairs to her unit unless he gave her "some booty."
About six months ago, she said, the same worker came to her house after a male visitor left and told her, "I see your boyfriend just left, can I get a turn?"
"I rejected his advances and he left without doing any of the long-outstanding work in my home," the woman wrote in an affidavit.
Another woman, a 33-year-old single mother, said she succumbed to Coleman's pressure and performed oral sex and later intercourse. She said in an affidavit that Coleman exposed himself to her in his office. She said she gave in to his demands because she was "shocked, young, scared, fleeing an abusive relationship and worried about the health and safety of my daughter."
A third woman, who did not reveal her age, said Coleman made unwelcome physical contact with her. Rejecting his advances, she wrote in an affidavit, has resulted in "allowing dangerous conditions to fester in my home unabated," including peeling paint, a rat infestation and no heat in two of her rooms.
One 38-year-old woman alleged in the lawsuit that a worker said he would pay for a "date" and grabbed her breasts. The worker would wait outside, "just staring at my house for long periods of time. I believe he does this to show that he has time to do the repairs and that he could do them if he wanted to," the woman wrote in her affidavit.
The mold in her house has gotten so bad that she's had to throw away furniture, and "I sometimes cough up blood," she said.