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.
Two former Housing Authority of Baltimore City maintenance workers who were fired for allegedly demanding thatpublic housing tenants perform sexual acts before they would make repairs are suing 17 women for defamation.
Charles Coleman, a maintenance supervisor hired by the agency in 2002, and Michael Robinson, a maintenance mechanic hired in 1991, say they were fired based on false allegations the women intentionally made for financial gain, according to court records obtained Thursday by The Baltimore Sun.
In the lawsuit filed in Baltimore Circuit Court in late January, they say the women made them out "to be unprofessional and sexual predators."
Theywant $6 million for compensatory damages and $30 million from each of the defendants for punitive damages. They claim damages based on alleged defamation, casting the men in a false light and causing intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Cary J. Hansel, an attorney for the women, called the suit "absolutely outrageous" and said he plans to ask the court to dismiss it.
Coleman and Robinson are seeking a jury trial. Their attorney,Kerrie Campbell, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The women filed a class-action lawsuit against the housing authority last year alleging sexual assault and abuse. The authority settled for up to $8 million, and Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano pledged sweeping changes to ensure that all public housing tenants can live in "peace and dignity" without being subjected to "the atrocious behavior of a group of people who inflicted indignity of an indescribable nature."
Tenants who say they were sexually abused or harassed will be able to join the initial lawsuit, but details on how to do so are pending. Tenants who join the suit will share in the settlement.
The women said maintenance workers at several complexes demanded sex for repairs. When they did not comply, the women said, they were exposed to unsafe living conditions such as mold, lack of heat and risk of electrocution.
Conditions of the settlement included firing the alleged abusers, creating 50 more maintenance positions and coming up with a plan to make repairs to complexes throughout the city, officials have said.
Coleman, a Northeast Baltimore resident, and Robinson, who lives in West Baltimore, say the women set out to harm them by acting maliciously, willfully and intentionally. Coleman also goes by the first name Clinton.
"As a result of the false and defamatory statements made by the defendants, the character and reputation of the plaintiffs were harmed, their standing with their employer and in their communities was impaired, and they suffered mental anguish and personal humiliation," they say in their lawsuit.