The issue of sexual harassment isn’t just a personal and legal matter, impacting mostly women who’ve been harmed.
Nor is it solely a troubling issue disrupting the careers and reputations of individuals in Hollywood, the entertainment world, politics, the news media, and other industries.
Sexual harassment and hostile work environment cases have been brought in the manufactured housing industry too, and are thus worthy of the MH Industry’s attention.
Indeed, there have been several manufactured home industry cases that are known to have been settled involving retailers, communities, and offices within the manufactured housing (MH) industry.
Because of the confidential nature of most settlements, per experts, the likelihood is that there are far more such claims than what an online search alone reveals.
Some eye-opening claims within the MH Industry will be spotlighted, following some insights from an industry attorney familiar with sexual harassment claims.
An Industry Attorney’s Legal Views
“Sex harassment in the work place is a form of illegal sex discrimination and is absolutely prohibited by both state and federal law,” said William “Bill” Hart, JD, of Hart King Law, in Orange County, CA.
The Hart King law firm specialties include manufactured housing, and manufactured home communities.
Bill Hart and his firm provided a combination of an on-the-record statement to MHProNews, along with previously published comments on the topic.
“What is Sexual Harassment?” King stated in the Journal (for full context, see the download, linked here) that “There are two basic types of sexual harassment: Quid pro quo (an instance where a supervisor conditions a job benefit on sexual activity); or hostile work environment (where there is a pervasive environment of harassment or innuendo that interferes with an employee’s performance).”
While both of those two basic types of claims matter, that second point of King’s could prove insightful regarding a high-profile manufactured housing industry operation, as Daily Business News readers will note further below.
“In the event that an employee registers a complaint based on alleged sexual harassment, their employer may not retaliate against that employee in any way,” said Hart.
The same attorney noted that harassment can involve a claim of a “hostile work environment.”
Reviewing the First of Two Published Cases, Then a Third High Profile MH Case Concern
“A settlement has been reached in a harassment lawsuit filed by a former manager of the Landfall mobile home park [sic],” reported the Twin Cities.
“Colleen Arndt of Apple Valley, who was fired as park manager in 2012, said that she will receive $300,000 and that the additional costs to the city will be about $450,000.”
“Chuck Bethel, attorney for the Landfall Housing and Redevelopment Authority, confirmed that a settlement had been reached. A two- sentence news release issued by both sides said the settlement was reached “to avoid the risk and expense of further litigation, and it is not an admission of wrongdoing on behalf of either party,” the Twin Cities said, adding:
“Landfall officials would not comment about the amount of the settlement or the costs to the city.”
“Arndt was hired as manager of the mobile home park in March 2012. She alleged in the lawsuit in Washington County District Court that during her five months on the job:
— A city official said, “I just want to date you before we hire you,” during her initial job interview.
— City officials asked her and other employees about masturbation and various kinds of sexual acts.
— Sanoski entered her office in July 2012, pointed a .45 caliber handgun at her and asked if she “felt fear.” He held the gun in his hand for more than five minutes while talking to her.
Arndt’s lawsuit said the Landfall HRA failed to provide a workplace free of sexual harassment and intimidation and made her work in a “zone of danger,” per the published report in local media.
“Arndt was fired during an August 2012 meeting of the Landfall City Council, effective immediately, without discussion or advance warning… “They acted out of retaliation,” Arndt said…” the county HRA took over control of the mobile home park [sic], citing mismanagement…Arndt said that thanks to the settlement, the whole episode was behind her. “I am able to move forward now,” she said,” according to Twin Cities.
Another MH Claim…
“It’s been a living hell for them in the trailer park [sic],” said Erin Olson, one of three attorneys for the women. “They tried the criminal process and that didn’t seem to be going anywhere.” per the Oregonian.
“Several of the women complained to police, but no charges have been filed against the man, Robert Louis Fry, Jr., 66, who continues to live in the park but no longer works there,” that local media stated.
“Fry denied all the allegations, saying the women were retaliating against him for just enforcing park rules. Fry said he was fired on March 26 because of the allegations,” said the OregonLive report.
“Deputy District Attorney Annie Shoen said the criminal investigation into the sexual assault allegations is continuing. Olson said a number of her clients testified in front of the grand jury in June,” per local media, adding:
“… The nine women are asking for $60,000 each in damages for suffering and emotional distress…
On top of those amounts, the 65-year-old plaintiff is asking for $300,000 and three others,
including a 15-year-old girl, are seeking an additional $100,000…”
High Profile Operation’s Woes?
Having established by examples that sexual harassment claims exists in the manufactured home industry, the issue now turns to the Arlington, VA based national association, the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI).
In the summer of 2014, more than one female staffer expressed directly in unsolicited remarks to the Daily Business News that they were working in what they called “a hostile work environment.”
According to several law firms that specialize in these kinds of cases, “a hostile work environment,” can often mean something similar to – or the same as – illegal sexual harassment.
Abney and McCarty at Kentucky Wrongful Termination, Springle Law, and New York Discrimination Lawyer are among those who said something similar to Bill Hart’s statement, quoted above.
A look at some history on the matter and related allegations sheds light on this difficult subject, and other MH Industry related subjects too.
1st of 3 Emailed Messages Relating to
Allegations of a Hostile Work Environment at MHI, Dates/Times as Shown
I just ended a call with someone you know and respect, and he’s suggested we should have a brief chat. I’ve got a long conference call coming up, but if you would let me know what your schedule looks like pre-Indy, he’s right, you deserve a heads up.
L. A. ‘Tony’ Kovach
— Typos are in the original email in the message shown below —
So we are clear, I have less than zero interest in getting in the middle of “whatever” is going on. That said, you deserved a heads up, and the people who have bent my ear (and there are a number), while not asking me to get in the middle (and again, I have not desire to do so! It never pays!;-) must desire resolution, or they wouldn’t be talking about it.
I do hear you about following the leader in the office. Also about letting third party’s set the agenda by the tail ‘wagging the dog’.
Thanks for the call. See you in Indy.
L. A. ‘Tony’ Kovach
The following email is from MHProNews to Nathan Smith, SSK Communities, and Tim Williams, President and CEO of 21st Mortgage Corp, both men are prior MHI chairmen.
Emailed message as shown, dated Oct 18, 2017.
Nathan and Tim,
There are several questions we want to ask, and you are invited to respond or react via email to any of the items linked further below.
But our main focus in this email is the question that follows.
Nathan will recall while he was chair, that he and I spoke by phone regarding the concerns of several women at MHI, who had complaints about Jennison and the workplace atmosphere in the MHI office.
In the wake of the Weinstein allegations, we were given a reminder of that MHI office issue. As a refresher, the women sought us out, hoping for help, not the other way around. This occurred at a time when our relationships were widely seen as positive.
Nathan will also recall telling me that if the women didn’t like the workplace environment, they were welcome to leave.
In fact, many did.
As you know, we addressed that off the radar. Significantly later, we lightly brought it up via the “Revolving Door“ post.
Against that backdrop, the question:
Without equating the Hollywood scandal with the allegations about Jennison, do you now see the wisdom of having an outside, third party investigate the concerns those staff women raised regarding MHI and the workplace atmosphere?
Please email your ‘on the record’ reply for accuracy.
A select group of MHI members, some of whom also will recall the allegations the ladies raised, along with a few others are part of the bcc to document this trade media inquiry. One or more of those in the bcc were among those who raised this office issue with me, on their initiative.
Thanks in advance for a thoughtful, substantive reply.
L. A. ‘Tony’ Kovach
As messages above reflects, MHI was given an opportunity to address this issue several years ago, and other occasions since. The publisher here reached out last month to Nathan Smith, and Tim Williams – at the time of the first 2 messages above, then chair and the next chairman – and since then to attorneys and the public relations people representing MHI. The response? Nada.
Not necessarily in order of importance,
First, because it is a topic that is in the news, and on the public’s mind. NBC News turned down the Harvey Weinstein story, but another news outlet ran it. Matters that ought to be addressed in a timely way, often are not. Timing on this issue may bring the necessary attention it merits.
Second, because as the emails reflect, the allegations were brought in a timely, and private fashion to the appropriate party at MHI. The method of communication in 2014 would have allowed an investigation and appropriate action to be taken without fanfare. MHI’s chairmen said what he said, and did what he did instead.
Don’t those emails reflect an issue of concern to not only those women, but also the ethics of the association, and the MH industry it claims to represent?
Third, in the wake of those claims of “a hostile work environment” – which may or may not have included sexual harassment per se, but is nevertheless legally actionable – a number of women left MHI, in short order. See the story linked 2 paragraphs, below.
The record reflects that the issue was first raised privately by email and phone. That was done for a variety of reasons – including, but not limited to – the hope that the parties could address the concerns/allegations of those women, who approached MHProNews individually, without encouragement, and in a similar timeframe.
Industry members can discern if it should have been addressed more vocally, but it was raised in a light, but public fashion a few months later in the post linked below.
Some of the hardest working, savviest professionals in manufactured housing bear the title ‘state association executive director’ – or in some cases – ‘state association president,’ etc.. State associations are at the grass roots level of the industry’s representation.
This is noteworthy for the industry on several levels, because MHI has threatened, and allegedly used various slurs – sometimes via surrogates – to others regarding MHProNews. But what the history reflects that Tony Kovach, then an elected and popular MHI board member – attempted to do the right thing by all involved, by raising those serious concerns from a number of women who were MHI staffers.
That took place at a time that the relationships between MHProNews and MHI were widely seen as positive. For example of the evidence of that warmer relationship, is the kudos message from then MHI Chairman Tim Williams published almost one year after the “revolving door,” “smoke and fire” Masthead post, linked above.
are both good communications resources for the Manufactured Housing Industry. I and many others at 21st Mortgage and at MHI logon to see the latest news, interviews, debates, videos, opinions and reports they publish.
It was months later when deeper fact checks of issues relating to Richard “Dick” Jennison and Lesli Gooch’s allegedly flawed communications to their own members were raised by MHProNews.
But before those more vigorous fact checks occurred, one or more key people at MHI had already allegedly begun a process of threatening/undermining this and our sister publication, MHLivingNews.
That took place during a time that MHProNews was still striving to support those issues that it could that MHI supported, see Tim Williams comments on that, below.
Was raising the concerns about a hostile work environment and possible sexual misconduct in the MHI office part of the reason for MHProNews/MHLivingNews became targets of MHI appointed officials?
And could those appointed officials have done so without sooner-or-later gaining the tacit or expressed consent of MHI elected leadership?
With respect to this specific workplace environment topic, what happened to those women?
Why did a number of women leave, some within weeks of coming on board?
Where one or more women paid off?
“Many settlements are confidential as to all material terms.” Bill Hart, JD, told MHProNews.
A Call for Transparency, Draining the MHI Swamp
The easiest way to discover what is really going on at MHI is for them to open their books, and to review emailed and all other records.
Associations, per sources, often have insurance to cover such risks and issues.
Outside attorneys might also be used by MHI to attempt to mask any settlement of allegations against the organization’s staff and/or the association itself.
The MHI association has been increasingly secretive over the last several years, on issues like the Pam Danner/Lois Starkey related one, linked below. There have been cases that MHProNews or MHLivingNews documented that suggest that MHI staff are misinforming members and/or the public on.
Members – including association board members – have told MHProNews, that MHI staff messages tells them ‘only what they want others to think and know.’
First, the readers digest version, then the details. Last week, the WVHI sent out their newsletter with a column apparently written by their co-president, George Gunnell. Gunnell is an RVP for Clayton Homes. That article and others in the same newsletter indicated that MHI wanted Pam Danner ousted from her role at HUD.
These are also among the reasons why some are calling for a new post-production – meaning non-manufacturing – trade association.
As the emails to MHI’s past and present leaders and attorneys reflect, they aren’t replying to inquiries on this hostile workplace topic.
While unrelated, Jim Ayotte made a point cited below that is relevant here. No one can know everything, and one can only act based upon knowledge had at the time.
Given that even a past-MHI president raised some unrelated, but still important issues only after leaving MHI, isn’t it time to have a full investigation of claims at MHI of “a hostile work environment,” along with other problematic issues raised by MHI members, MHARR, and this publication?
It is MHI dues renewal time.
Will MHI members demand an independent accounting? Will members demand transparency?
Or will they go along, to get along?
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Submitted by Soheyla Kovach to the Daily Business News for MHProNews.com.
Soheyla is a managing member and co-founder of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC the parent company to MHProNews and MHLivingNews.