Faces of DFEH – Cheryl Leighton

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Sexual harassment

Cheryl Leighton thought she had a found a room to rent in a wonderful home owned by a nice couple. However, the male landlord began to want more than her rent. After she refused his advances, he evicted her and she ended up homeless for seven months.
What was your experience that led you to seek out help from DFEH?

I put an ad with my photo for a room on Craigslist. I got a response that the landlord and his wife had a room to rent. It sounded like a safe and good place. I interviewed with them. They had a beautiful, affordable room with privacy in a nice community. Soon after I moved in, Joe (not his real name) started to pay me a lot of attention. Then he asked me to do things with him alone. Dinner, etc. I didn’t want to move but it was uncomfortable. I felt like I had to compromise my own boundaries to please him. Then he started coming to my room to ask questions, showing no respect for my boundaries. Then one day he kissed me on the lips.

How did that experience affect you?

I felt oppressed and had to hide in my room. Even after the kiss, I still didn’t want to move. I wrote him an email and said I needed a little more privacy. He said I should move. I told him I had rights and he couldn’t just evict me. I was working a lot as a nurse in a cardiac unit and I couldn’t relax at home. I got a restraining order against him and he sent me an eviction notice. I moved out and had to sleep in my van because I couldn’t find an affordable place for seven months. Then the housing authority sent my case to DFEH for further action.

What do you want people to take away from your experience?

I want people to know that there are resources here for them. I want them to know that this is the next step as there are more and more people who are suffering because of growing inequality.

What do you want people to know about discrimination and harassment?

I think that in our culture there is no requirement that a landlord be a quality person, and renters are very vulnerable. Growing inequality is creating more vulnerable people. I have to have references to rent an apartment, but I don’t know anything about the person I’m renting from.

How was your experience with the DFEH?

It exceeded my expectations. The staff was so supportive and very professional. And they kept me from being exposed to the landlord. The attorney was such a good communicator. I think more landlords need to be held accountable. He was such an entitled guy who felt rejected and did not care that he was playing with my life and making me homeless. It was such a good experience to have someone to advocate for me.