Nearly two dozen women will share equally in a $736,000 court settlement Monday with two Twin Cities residential rental companies and their officers over allegations that one of the owners sexually harassed them, including pressuring them for sex, while threatening eviction and other forms of punishment if they refused or incentives if they bowed to his demands.

The consent decree filed in U.S. District Court directs Fruen & Pfeiffer LLP and M. Fruen Properties, and individual defendants to pay $32,000 to each of the 23 women and pay a $14,000 civil penalty to the federal government. It also permanently bans the primary defendant, 70-year-old Reese Pfeiffer, from ever managing property.

Pfeiffer was accused in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department in September 2020 of various acts of sexual harassment as far back as 2009 and continuing well into 2020 toward female tenants who lived Robbinsdale, Crystal, Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Plymouth, Hopkins, Bloomington, Eagan and Minnetonka. The allegations included, according to court records:

• Coercing or pressuring female tenants to engage in sexual acts in order to continue renting.

• Making unwanted sexual comments and advances.

• Engaging in unwelcome sexual touching that sometimes included him paying a tenant.

• Offering leniency on rent or utility payments in exchange for sex, but threatening eviction or "other adverse housing" actions if he was rebuffed.

• Expressing a preference for single female tenants.

• Making unannounced visits in pursuit of sex.

Along with Pfeiffer, of Plymouth, the other defendants are Jeanne Pfeiffer, Michael Fruen, Jeremy Martineau, and their companies, Fruen & Pfeiffer and M. Fruen Properties.

While Reese Pfeiffer is the sole defendant accused of carrying out these acts, the others were sued because they were "liable for [his] discriminatory conduct because he acted as their agent when he sexually harassed tenants at properties in which they had an ownership interest," read a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Reached by phone Monday, Reese Pfeiffer declined to comment on the consent decree. Attorneys for the defendants either were not available for comment about the case or declined to elaborate beyond the terms.

An incentive for the defendants to settle was no admission of wrongdoing.

"The consent decree represents a compromise of the disputed claims [and] is not an admission of liability by any defendant and is not intended to be construed as an admission of liability," the decree declared.

The consent decree also resolves a separate lawsuit brought by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid on behalf of three of the women.

"All people deserve to feel safe in their homes," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department's civil rights division said in a statement announcing the settlement. "Sexual harassment in housing deprives individuals of that security."

Minnesota's Acting U.S. Attorney W. Anders Folk in his statement, added, "This resolution helps restore the public safety of these female tenants. No one should be subjected to an environment of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, especially in their own homes."

Along with the financial consequence and Reese Pfeiffer's lifetime ban from property management, the decree requires the defendants to retain an independent property manager approved by the Justice Department. The defendants must also undergo education and training on the federal Fair Housing Act, with specific emphasis on discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual harassment.

If you think you are a victim of sexual harassment by a landlord, or other forms of housing discrimination, contact the Justice Department by submitting a report online or contact the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota at 612-664-5600.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482