Attorneys for an 88-year-old Wilkes County man accused of sexually harassing women who tried to buy or rent homes from him over 10 years have filed court papers seeking to have a federal lawsuit against the man thrown out.
In July, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Wilkesboro resident Robert Neal Hatfield in U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. The lawsuit alleged that Hatfield had made unwelcome sexual comments and advances toward women who had sought to rent or buy homes from him. Hatfield is also accused of groping and inappropriately touching women and asking women for sexual favors in exchange for things such as reduced rents, loans or down payments and for overlooking late payments.
The lawsuit alleges that Hatfield threatened to take action against women who either objected to the harassment or refused his requests for sexual favors. According to the lawsuit, Hatfield violated the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
In court papers filed Saturday, Ryan Bolick and Virginia Wooten, Hatfield’s attorneys, said a federal judge should dismiss the lawsuit because the U.S. Department of Justice failed to state a claim under the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. They also argue the Justice Department’s lawsuit does not provide sufficient factual allegations that prove a practice or pattern of discrimination.
Bolick and Wooten said that before filing a complaint, officials with the Justice Department “demanded information from Mr. Hatfield.”
“Mr. Hatfield voluntarily provided information about the ownership of properties,” Hatfield’s attorneys said in court papers. “After allegedly completing an investigation, the Department of Justice contacted the undersigned and claimed that undisclosed persons alleged that Mr. Hatfield took actions which violate the Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The Department of Justice has refused to share any specific factual allegations supporting claims of a violation of the Fair Housing Act or Equal Credit Opportunity Act.”
Bolick and Wooten argue that the lawsuit does not provide enough information to prove a pattern or practice of discrimination. The lawsuit, Bolick and Wooten argue, lacks specifics, including names of alleged victims and the time and place where alleged incidents occurred.
Wooten did not return a message left at her office Tuesday seeking comment. Lauren Ehrsam, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said in an email that the department would have no comment.
Hatfield is also being sued by two women. The women — one of whom had sought to rent from Hatfield and another who was a tenant — filed the lawsuit in January in U.S. District Court in the Western District of North Carolina. The lawsuit alleges that Hatfield sexually harassed more than 15 women. The lawsuit said that Hatfield tried to grab the breast and grope the stomach of one plaintiff who had tried to rent from him. The woman was pregnant at the time. Another plaintiff alleges that Hatfield talked about her breasts and made inappropriate comments while hugging her.
Bolick and Wooten filed a motion to dismiss in that lawsuit, alleging that the two women failed to state a claim under the Fair Housing Act and a claim for assault and battery. U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn denied the motion to dismiss on Sept. 5.