Holland & Knight Collaborates with Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County in Fair Housing Act Victory in Federal Court
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (August 1, 2022) - Holland & Knight trial lawyers joined with the Palm Beach County Legal Aid Society for a decisive trial win and punitive damages for a single mother who was evicted from her apartment due to alleged sexual harassment from her landlord.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on one’s sex. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal confirmed for the first time in a notable appeal handled by the Legal Aid Society earlier in this case that sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. After winning the appeal, the Legal Aid Society and Holland & Knight teamed up for the trial.
The case of Rita Fox v. Dana Gaines and Lucille Gaines was a four-day federal jury trial. The Jupiter, Fla. apartment complex is owned by Lucille Gaines. Her son, Dana Gaines, is the property manager and is responsible for the day to day operations. Mr. Gaines allegedly harassed Ms. Fox, pressuring her for sexual favors in exchange for a reduction in rent and to live at the complex. Mr. Gaines was insistent, refused to back off and, because Ms. Fox had very limited housing options and a young child to care for, she acquiesced to his demands. Ms. Fox later ended the relationship. Mr. Gaines then retaliated, accusing Ms. Fox of late rent payments and rule violations, and took steps to evict her and her child from the apartment. At trial, Ms. Fox’s trial team emphasized that a landlord cannot take away a tenant’s place to sleep because the tenant would not sleep with the landlord.
The attorneys pressed four claims of violations of the Fair Housing Act and prevailed on all four, winning compensatory and punitive damages. They will also seek recovery of their attorney fees. Holland & Knight Partner Matthew Zimmerman, Senior Counsel Philip Rothschild, Associate Courtney Oakes and Legal Aid trial lawyer Denita Jones and Paralegal Carmen Draper represented Ms. Fox. Ms. Jones and Ms. Oakes took lead roles in the trial presentation.
"This case was an ideal collaboration between Holland & Knight’s pro bono project and the Legal Aid Society to help protect vulnerable tenants, particularly single mothers, and ensure fair housing for Ms. Fox and the citizens of Palm Beach County," said Matthew Zimmerman, a partner in Holland & Knight's West Palm Beach office. "We are grateful to the court and the jury for their hard work and consideration on this important issue."
"This has been a long battle for Ms. Fox, but she stayed strong through it all," said Ms. Jones. "We are pleased that we successfully achieved a favorable outcome and are thankful for the opportunity to collaborate with Holland & Knight. We hope that this case serves as a catalyst for women everywhere to know that they have a right to use and enjoy their home, free from sexual harassment and free from sex-based discrimination."
About the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County: The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County is committed to providing high quality civil legal advice, representation and education to the disadvantaged of Palm Beach County so as to protect their personal safety, enhance their opportunities and living conditions and promote self-sufficiency. Legal Aid’s work helps our clients deal with many of life's most basic needs: a safe home, enough food to eat, a quality education, and protection against exploitation and discrimination. For additional information, visit www.legalaidpbc.org or call 800-403-9353.