Settlement talks are set to begin in January between the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and 11 women who allege that maintenance men demanded sex before making repairs, according to electronic court records.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Beth P. Gesner ordered a settlement conference for Jan. 12 after attorneys representing the women and the housing agency petitioned the court for intervention.


The women filed suit in late September, claiming that several maintenance men at three public housing complexes sexually harassed and abused them over the course of recent years. They say their constitutional rights were violated.

The parties jointly requested the judge's assistance in helping to achieve "justice and the swift resolution of this case." The mediation would be nonbinding.

The women's attorneys, Annie B. Hirsch and Cary J. Hansel, said they appreciate the agency's willingness to discuss a "fair resolution."

"We will continue to aggressively pursue our clients' rights until justice is done, whether through an amicable resolution at mediation or a public trial," Hansel said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the housing agency couldn't immediately be reached for comment. Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano has said he finds the allegations "extremely disturbing." He also sent a letter to public housing residents to tell them to report to police any sexual harassment by employees or contractors.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is investigating the allegations. City prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation.

The embattled agency also is facing criticism from residents who say living conditions in the city's public housing complexes are deplorable. Residents toured Gilmor Homes with Graziano last week, showing him signs of rodent infestation and mold.

The agency is selling about 40 percent of its 11,000 public housing units to private developers to generate money for repairs.