A broken window overlooking a courtyard at Gilmor Homes. (Photo by Roberto Alejandro)

Seven women residents of Gilmor Homes have filed a $950 million lawsuit against the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) over claims they were sexually harassed by maintenance workers on the property.

The suit—filed on behalf of the seven residents by attorneys Cary Hansel of Hansel Law, PC, and Annie Hirsch of Hirsch and Cosca, PC—alleges that the women faced sexual advances, touching, and other forms of harassment when they sought repairs for issues inside their units. The suit names four defendants: HABC, Baltimore Housing commissioner (and executive director of HABC) Paul Graziano, maintenance supervisor Clinton Coleman, and maintenance worker Mike Robertson.

According to the statement of facts, all seven women say they faced sexual advances, and in some cases physical touching as well as coerced sexual acts, including intercourse. In an affidavit accompanying the lawsuit, one resident, Nicole Smith, testifies that she moved to Gilmor after escaping an abusive relationship, only to be coerced into sexual favors by Coleman in exchange for repairs. Smith says that she acceded to the demands due to concerns over her own safety as well as her eight-year-old daughter’s, who lives with her at Gilmor.

The suit also alleges that three of the seven named plaintiffs, Smith, Amy Towson, and Jacqueline Morant, complained to other housing officials about the harassment by maintenance workers, only to see their complaints go nowhere.

“The practice of demanding sex for repairs is so widespread that it is a pattern and practice by , whose housing officials have repeatedly turned their backs on the most vulnerable city residents,” reads the lawsuit, in part. “For years, has ignored numerous complaints and repeatedly allowed abusers to maintain their positions of power. These abusers hold tremendous power over the women bringing this lawsuit. Defendants Coleman and Robertson: possess keys to all of their victim’s homes which they utilize to come and go as they please, have the ability to have residents evicted, and the ability to ignore badly-needed repairs.”

The message these seven women are sending to the Housing Authority is simple, says Hirsch.

“These conditions are unlivable and intolerable. From the conditions the women are living in themselves, and the failure of the system itself, to make the repairs, to the undue pressure . . . this needs to be stopped immediately, and these conditions have to be repaired immediately.”

According to Tania Baker, deputy director of communications for Baltimore Housing, “ is aware of the allegations of sexual abuse at Gilmor Homes and finds them extremely disturbing. HABC considers any employee actions that would subject its residents to sexual abuse or sexual harassment to be reprehensible. . . . The agency continues to actively conduct an internal investigation of the alleged sexual abuse; however, details of this pending personnel investigation cannot be disclosed.”

HABC has been saying they are investigating the matter since August, but Hansel says that not a single one of his clients has been contacted by anyone at housing regarding the conditions of the units or alleged harassment, raising questions in his mind about the nature of the investigation.

“We’re surprised that despite our clients many complaints , none of them have ever been contacted as a result of this investigation says is ongoing. . . . I want to have confidence in the state of the investigation but I do not, and I’m hoping the Housing Authority will reach out and reassure us,” said Hansel.

The AFRO first broke the story of the harassment faced by women residents of Gilmor Homes back in July, after being notified by Perry Hopkins, an organizer with Communities United, about the deplorable conditions of the units at the housing project.

“Those numbers reflect the seriousness of ,” said Hopkins about the amount of demanded compensatory damages in the lawsuit.

“These people have been crying out for help for a long time. There are a lot of people that could have stepped in, a lot earlier, and helped to remedy this problem. It had to come to this. I’m satisfied with the monetary part of the suit, but what would satisfy me more is to see some change . . . . There’s no reason that it had to go this far.  There’s no reason that at least seven lives on record had to be ruined this way,” Hopkins added.