A Bushwick landlord is being sued for subjecting his lesbian tenants to intense harassment, going so far as to try and run over one of the women with his car.
Betsy Ortiz and Jessica Marrero, the mothers of a three-year-old girl, were forced to leave their home after suffering the abuse of their landlord, Juan Vasquez, and his family, who verbally and physically harassed them after discovering their sexual orientation.
The harassment included casual homophobic slurs, statements that Ortiz and Marrero brought "great shame" to the community, threats of rape, and Vasquez hitting Ortiz with a trash can and an attempt to run over Marrero with his car.
Ultimately, Ortiz, Marrero, and their daughter left the two-family house that was shared with the Vasquez family, but the couple has come forward and filed criminal and civil charges against the Vasquez family.
The couple’s case was taken on by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP, who announced the filing of the lawsuit at a press conference in front of Brooklyn Superior Court on Monday.
"Their story is a chilling one, but not uncommon," said Dan Garadnick, a representative from the law firm. "Everybody should be able to live their life free from insults and fear."
A tearful Ortiz spoke about the cruelty she endured. According to Ortiz, the harassment began after the two women were spotted holding hands, at which point they were "continually called names in front of [their] three-year-old daughter."
She went on to describe Vasquez’ actions, saying "he said bad words to us in front of our daughter, and he struck me with a garbage can. We tried to escape, but we had no place to go."
It was clear that Ortiz was emotionally ravaged by the ordeal, as it was difficult for her to recount.
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an openly gay woman, was on hand at the press conference, and at one point read Ortiz’ statement when she was too upset to do so herself. Quinn expressed her admiration for Ortiz and Marrero’s bravery in the matter.
"What you are doing will not only bring justice to you and your daughter, but to everybody in the country," said Quinn. "This lawsuit will send a message to the homophobes in New York. It won’t change their minds, but it will make them afraid to harass other citizens."
The lawsuit is seeking compensatory as well as punitive damages to the maximum amount possible, although representatives from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP did not specify the amount. The law firm thanked Make the Road By Walking, a community activist group in Bushwick, for bringing the case to their attention, and said that the women had brought up criminal charges as well.