OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A Fair Housing Act lawsuit alleging that a now-deceased Oklahoma City landlord – who was once embroiled in an investigation into the concealing of human remains – sexually harassed dozens of female tenants has been settled for $1.25 million.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma settled the lawsuit with defendants Rosemarie Pelfrey, Omega Enterprises LLC and Pelfrey Investment Company Inc.
The lawsuit alleged that the defendants’ agent, Walter Ray Pelfrey, sexually harassed female tenants and prospective tenants when he owned or managed dozens of rental properties in Oklahoma City. Walter Pelfrey died in 2018.
The defendants are ordered to pay $1.2 million in damages to female tenants and prospective tenants harmed by Pelfrey’s harassment, and a $50,000 civil penalty to the United States, according to a Department of Justice news release.
“This settlement, which came after protracted litigation, sends a clear message that the Justice Department will not tolerate sexual harassment,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division. “No one should ever have to endure what the women in this case were subjected to.”
The lawsuit alleged Pelfrey harassed tenants and prospective tenants for almost 20 years, through at least 2017. His alleged misconduct includes the following actions:
- Demanded that prospective tenants engage in sexual activities with him to obtain housing;
- Offered to reduce rent and overlook unpaid rent in exchange for sex or sexual contact;
- Evicted and threatened to evict female tenants who refused his sexual advances;
- Groped and grabbed female tenants’ breasts, buttocks and genitals;
- Made unwelcome sexual advances and comments;
- Entered the homes of female tenants without permission to further his sexual advances.
“For nearly 20 years, more than 40 female tenants and prospective tenants endured abhorrent sexual harassment when all they wanted was a safe place to call home,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Robert J. Troester for the Western District of Oklahoma. “Tenants have the right under federal fair housing laws to be free from unwanted sexual harassment in order to obtain or maintain housing. The magnitude of this settlement and consent order demonstrates that the Justice Department will neither tolerate this type of discrimination from abusers nor ignore the vulnerable victims who suffer this abuse.”
Rosemarie Pelfrey, Omega Enterprises LLC and Pelfrey Investment Company Inc. were named in the lawsuit because they owned the properties where the misconduct occurred. They are vicariously liable for Walter Pelfrey’s harassment, the news release states.
The settlement requires the defendants to give Fair Housing Act training to their employees, provide a complaint procedure to tenants and release the judgements against the victims who Walter Pelfrey wrongly evicted.
Walter Pelfrey was accused in 2017 of “accessory after the fact” and “unlawful removal of a body or, in the alternative, desecration of a human corpse” in connection with concealing the body of teenager Geanna Durham, whose remains were ultimately found in a landfill.
Durham’s mother, Reshawnda Durham, was charged with failure to report discovered remains, unauthorized removal of a dead body, accessory after the fact and child neglect. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Police said Reshawnda Durham took Geanna’s body from her home to a storage space at Scott Street Mini Storage in Del City, which was owned by Walter Pelfrey.
Authorities told KFOR in 2017 that Pelfrey misled detectives by saying Reshawnda Durham was not using a storage space at the facility when she was.
Walter Pelfrey was also alleged to have told employees to clear out the contents of Reshawnda Durham’s unit and delete her rental records after an employee reported finding human remains wrapped inside a trunk.
“The subject who found the body described seeing a human leg bone with some tissue still attached along with a pelvic bone,” court documents state. “The subject advised he notified his relative who works at the storage unit, and they contacted the owner who advised them to throw the trunk containing human remains into a dumpster.”