Citing Alleged “Rent For Sex” Conduct, Court Denies Motion to Dismiss Tenant’s “Quid Pro Quo” Sexual Harassment Claim Under the Fair Housing Act

In Glagola v. MacFann, 2:22-cv-1263-NR-LPL, 2023 WL 7271340 (W.D.Pa. Nov. 3, 2023), the court, inter alia, held that plaintiff stated claims for sexual harassment (under quid pro quo and “hostile housing environment” theories) under the Fair Housing Act, as well for forced labor and sex trafficking under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

As to plaintiff’s “quid pro quo” claim,[1]This blog post will be limited to the court’s discussion of this claim. the court explained:

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is “an unwelcome request or demand to engage in conduct where submission to the request or demand, either explicitly or implicitly, is made a condition related to, among others, the rental or availability of a dwelling or the terms, conditions, or privileges of the sale or rental.” Fox v. Gaines, No. 19-81620, 2022 WL 1746812, at *3 (S.D. Fla. May 31, 2022) (citation omitted). The Magistrate Judge concluded that the amended complaint “neither alleges nor suggests that the availability of [Ms. Glagola’s] lease with [Tri-County] nor its terms or provision of services were conditioned on, or severely or pervasively adversely affected/influenced by (related to), [Mr.] MacFann’s improper conduct[.]” ECF 28, p. 5. Instead, the Magistrate Judge found that the “coercive power of [Mr.] MacFann’s alleged demands derived from his ability and threats to stop personally ‘paying [Ms. Glagola’s] rent in exchange for sex.’ ” Id. (cleaned up). This Court finds that, drawing all favorable inferences in Ms. Glagola’s favor, the amended complaint alleges a textbook example of quid pro quo harassment.

The core allegation in the amended complaint is that Mr. MacFann—Ms. Glagola’s landlord—offered to waive or pay for Ms. Glagola’s rent in exchange for sex. ECF 11, ¶ 2. So, submission to the unwelcome demand—i.e., a request for sex—was made a condition to the terms of her lease—i.e., free rent. That is enough to state a claim for quid pro quo harassment. Krueger v. Cuomo, 115 F.3d 487, 489-92 (7th Cir. 1997) (affirming quid pro quo finding where landlord requested that female tenant “fool around” to make up rent shortfall).

The Magistrate Judge reached the opposite conclusion by rejecting Ms. Glagola’s allegation that Mr. MacFann was her landlord and focusing on the semantics of the offer. ECF 28, pp. 2-6. According to the R&R, Mr. MacFann, acting independently, and only offered to pay Tri-County for Ms. Glagola’s rent if she submitted to his demands. Id. at 5. Thus, whether Mr. MacFann paid Ms. Glagola’s rent would not change the rent charged by the actual landlord, Tri-County. Id. at 6. This conclusion is at odds with the allegations in the amended complaint.

That is, Ms. Glagola expressly pled that Mr. MacFann was her landlord. See ECF 11, ¶ 2. The Magistrate Judge found that that assertion was “unsupported” and “contradicted” by Ms. Glagola’s lease. Id. at 2 n.4. But that requires the Court to improperly draw an inference against Ms. Glagola, which it cannot do at this stage. For example, the Court would have to infer that Mr. MacFann did not have some relationship to Tri-County that would make him, in fact, Ms. Glagola’s landlord, which would be contrary to what she expressly pled in the amended complaint. It would also be contrary to reasonable inferences drawn from the allegations. The core allegations in the complaint make clear that Mr. MacFann was the landlord or some type of director of Tri-Century, given his complete authority to allow Ms. Glagola to reside at the property without paying any rent, and later threatening to evict her. See ECF 11, ¶¶ 18, 25. Mr. MacFann’s precise role in leasing the house to Ms. Glagola and his relationship with Tri-County is a subject to be explored in discovery and resolved on summary judgment or at trial, not definitively decided at this preliminary stage, especially since Ms. Glagola unambiguously pled that Mr. McFann was, in fact, her landlord.

With that issue resolved, the form of Mr. MacFann’s offer about Ms. Glagola’s rent is irrelevant. As her landlord, whether he is “waiving” her rent or “paying” it to himself directly or through Tri-County, the outcome is the same—Ms. Glagola doesn’t have to pay rent to live in the house. Indeed, the amended complaint uses this terminology interchangeably. In one paragraph, Ms. Glagola alleges that her tenancy began with Mr. MacFann waiving her rent in exchange for cleaning services (id. ¶ 18), and then later alleges that Mr. MacFann offered to “pay” her rent in exchange for sex (id. ¶ 20).

The court concluded that “[t]he key inference from these allegations is that Mr. MacFann, as Ms. Glagola’s landlord, could unilaterally change the conditions and terms of her lease, if she yielded to his demand for sex” which “is enough to plead a claim for quid pro quo harassment.”

Accordingly, the court declined to adopt the magistrate’s report and recommendation, and denied defendant’s motion to dismiss.

1 This blog post will be limited to the court’s discussion of this claim.
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