The U.S. Justice Department is suing a longtime Athens County landlord for sexual harassment

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB/Report for America) — The federal government has sued a longtime Athens County landlord for claims of sexual harassment dating back at least two decades.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District Court of Ohio, accuses Joseph Lucas of engaging in a pattern of unwanted sexual advances toward multiple female tenants since 2004.

The top of a court filing in federal court against Joseph Lucas.
The lawsuit alleges Lucas abused his power as a landlord to make unwanted sexual advances toward his female tenants. [Theo Peck-Suzuki | WOUB Public Media/Report for America]
These advances include allegedly requesting sex acts from female tenants, often to compensate for unpaid rent. The lawsuit alleges the Athens County landlord would sometimes threaten female tenants who were behind on their rent with eviction if they did not grant his requests. The lawsuit also alleges Lucas sometimes entered the dwellings of his female tenants without permission.

In one case, according to the lawsuit, Lucas entered the home of a woman who was nine months pregnant and offered to forgive her rent in exchange for sex. The woman refused. According to the lawsuit, Lucas evicted the woman, her partner and her newborn child not long after.

(Read the full lawsuit here.)

In another case which the lawsuit alleges stretched from 2016 to 2022, Lucas repeatedly coerced a female tenant into unwanted sexual contact, including oral sex. When she refused his advances, or when he saw her with other men, he threatened her with eviction.

The government is seeking monetary damages for each of Lucas’s alleged victims and other civil penalties.