Landlord to pay $2M to settle sexual harassment claims

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) A Bakersfield landlord will pay a record amount to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Rawland Leon Sorensen owns dozens of residential rental properties and has operated his business for more than 30 years.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, alleged that Sorensen sexually harassed female tenants by making unwelcome sexual comments and advances, exposing his genitals to female tenants, touching tenants without their consent, granting and denying housing benefits based on sex, and taking adverse action against women who refused his sexual advances.

Sorensen will pay more than $2 million in monetary damages and civil penalties to settle the lawsuit. The U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday that this is the largest monetary settlement ever agreed to in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the Justice Department under the Fair Housing Act.

He will also be required to hire an independent manager to oversee his properties, and he must imposes strict limits on his ability to have contact with current and future tenants.

"All the allegations are not true, and lawyers are coaching the accusers to match their stories," Sorensen told Eyewitness News in a March 2011 interview.

Tuesday, federal officials called Sorensen's actions "egregious."

"Women have the right to feel safe in their homes and not to be subjected to sexual harassment just because their families need housing. The Justice Department can and will vigorously prosecute landlords who violate those rights," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.