Feds settle sexual harassment case with LA property manager, owner
Defendants to pay $105K; prosecutors say rent discounts were offered for sex
Last year federal prosecutors laid out their case against Filomeno Hernandez, a Central Los Angeles residential property manager: For more than a decade, they alleged, Hernandez was a serial sexual harasser, frequently making unwelcome advances and surprise visits to female tenants’ homes and offering rent discounts in exchange for sex.
The government also brought charges against Ramin Akhavan, the property owner who employed Hernandez.
On Friday the Justice Department announced it had settled its case, with the defendants to pay $100,000 to the women and a $5,000 civil penalty.
“The right to be free from sexual harassment in one’s own home is a vital federal civil right,” Tracy L. Wilkison, the acting U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement. “This settlement shows our commitment to vigorously enforcing federal civil rights laws and holding accountable those who discriminate against others in violation of the Fair Housing Act.”
The abuse allegedly occurred at two different apartment buildings near MacArthur Park, just west of Downtown Los Angeles. Akhavan bought one, a 23,000 square-foot, 82-unit building at 720 South Westlake Avenue, in 1995 for an undisclosed amount. He bought the other, a 31,000-square-foot, 97-unit structure at 729 South Bonnie Brae Street, for $750,000 in 1998, records show.
Akhavan hired Hernandez as property manager of one building in 2005 and promoted him to manage both buildings a few years later. Hernandez lived at the Bonnie Brae building, according to the complaint.
Prosecutors alleged that Hernandez subjected female tenants at both buildings to “severe, pervasive, and unwelcome sexual harassment.” Akhavan, they alleged, was in charge of Hernandez’s performance and failed to provide any sexual harassment training.
But in the wake of the charges Akhavan stood by his longtime manager.
“My client does not believe there was any form of sexual harassment whatsoever,” Benjamin Kiss, who represented Akhavan, told The Real Deal last year. Instead, Kiss said, the allegations of sexual harassment were a “roundabout way to get [Hernandez] removed” after he had cracked down on tenants’ drug use.
The settlement resolves claims against both men, although the case’s consent decree still must be approved by a California district court. The agreement stipulates that Hernandez leave the premises and never again serve as a residential property manager. It also requires “extensive monitoring” of the property and mandates Fair Housing Act training.
Hernandez and Akhavan could not be reached for comment.