Public housing tenants in Baltimore who were sexually harassed and abused by maintenance workers will share an up to $8 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit that exposed poor living conditions in the subsidized complexes.
A Baltimore Circuit Court judge on Wednesday dismissed a defamation case against women who alleged maintenance workers at public housing units demanded sex before making repairs, according to the women's attorney.
Lawyer Cary J. Hansel said Judge Shannon E. Avery threw out the case in which two former Housing Authority of Baltimore City handymen said they were wrongly fired based on false allegations that a group of 17 women made for financial gain.
"Today's Circuit Court ruling stands in staunch support of these brave women," Hansel said in a statement. "We have full faith in our clients and we are thrilled that the Court saw that the case against them had absolutely no merit."
Kerrie A. Campbell, an attorney for the former maintenance men Charles Coleman and Michael Robinson, said the men have not decided what next step to take. She said the case was dismissed, not on the merits of their argument, but on a legal technicality.
"The dismissal has nothing to do with the facts of the case," Campbell said.
Coleman and Robinsonwere seeking $6 million for compensatory damages and $30 million from each of the defendants for punitive damages.
Hansel said the dismissal of the case "helps to bring closure to each of our clients."
The housing authority reached a settlement worth up to $8 million in a class-action suit brought in September by the group of women. The women said they were sexually abused or harassed by Coleman, Robinson and other members of the maintenance staff while living in Baltimore public housing complexes.
When the women did not comply with the demands, they say they were exposed to unsafe living conditions, including lack of heat.
Coleman was hired by the housing authority in 2002 and worked as a maintenance supervisor. Robinson was hired in 1991 as a maintenance mechanic. The men claimed the women's allegations cast them in a false light and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.
The defamation case was filed in the city Circuit Court in late January. Coleman and Robinson said the women wrongly portrayed them "to be unprofessional and sexual predators."
As a result of the women's suit, the housing authority pledged to make sweeping changes, including creating 50 more maintenance positions and developing a plan to improve the housing complexes. Coleman and Robinson were fired as a condition of the settlement.
Hansel said he is working with the housing authority to retain a third-party administer in the class-action suit. Other tenants who say they, too, were sexually abused or harassed can join the suit and share in the settlement.
Details on how additional tenants can join the suit are pending. A notice on how they could do so might be provided as early as this month.
"We are pressing to move things as quickly as possible," Hansel said.