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A landlord is accused of groping multiple women, offering to reduce rent or make repairs in exchange for sex, and making ongoing unwanted sexual advances to tenants over a number of years, in a new federal civil rights lawsuit.

Thong Cao is accused of violating the rights of two women who refused his advances—and were then evicted from properties in Wichita, Kansas, according to a federal civil suit filed by the Department of Justice’s Sex Harassment Initiative, which was announced in October.

The civil suit springs from two complaints filed by former tenants with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Property owners and managers who use their position to seek sexual favors are not only violating a woman’s housing rights, they are creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation,” said Anna Maria Farias, the assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity at HUD.

Cao owned and operated at least five rental properties in the Wichita area, and two other co-defendants named in the suit also owned four or more properties.

The first woman signed a lease with Cao in 2008 for an apartment, and moved to two other properties owned by the defendants over the next six years. Over that time, the woman began working as a property manager for Cao, including collecting rent and receiving a percentage of the total amount she collected, according to the lawsuit.

During her time at the properties, she alleged that Cao engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment. That included entering her apartment unit announced and touching her while she slept, grabbing her buttocks, promising to reduce or eliminate rent payments if she slept with him, repeatedly asking for sex—and telling her he would be her “sugar daddy,” according to the complaint. 

She was served with an eviction notice—and agreed not to contest it, though she filed the HUD complaint afterward.

The second woman lived at one of the properties for only five months in 2014, before being evicted. But she alleges in that short time Cao grabbed her breasts and buttocks, made conditions on making repairs or forgiving rent payments on sex, and made sexual comments.

This second woman filed a police report on July 3, 2014. Two weeks later, Cao asked the woman for sex, and when she refused, he served her a three-day notice to vacate the apartment. Two weeks after that, she and her grandchildren were evicted by the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, according to the court filing.

The lawsuit contends the patterns of behavior—which included other tenants beyond the two complainants—was nothing less than sex discrimination.

“Cao’s conduct toward these women was sufficiently severe or pervasive to have the effect of imposing different terms, conditions, or privileges of their housing and interfering with their enjoyment of housing,” they write. “Cao initiated eviction proceedings against female tenants after they refused to comply with his requests for sex or sexual acts.”

The suit is part of the Sex Harassment Initiative announced by the Civil Rights Division in October. But the Justice Department has already filed or settled six sexual harassment cases—and recovered over $1 million for victims—since the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Jan. 20, they added.

“HUD will continue to work with the Justice Department to take action to ensure that individuals that provide housing meet their obligation to comply with federal fair housing laws,” said Farias, of HUD. 

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