Trans woman awarded $50,000 in discrimination case ghosted by officials and hasn’t been paid a year later

Maggie Baska
·4-min read

Giana Desir, a trans woman, won a hefty discrimination lawsuit against a real estate broker. A year later, she says, she still hasn’t seen any money.

Desir, from Brooklyn, New York, won $50,000 in compensation from a real estate broker sexually who harassed her and said she couldn’t live near “people or children”.

New York City’s Commission on Human Rights also ruled that Henry Walter and his company Empire State Realty & Management of Brooklyn would pay a civil penalty of $15,000, which was raised to $25,000 if they refused to participate in training on trans rights and sexual harassment.

However, a little over a year later, Desir said she still has not seen the $50,000 in damages. She told The City that she had received “absolutely nothing”, “not even a phone call” since the commission ordered Walter and his company to pay Desir.

The City also reported that Walter and Empire State Realty & Management of Brooklyn owed a $25,000 civil penalty to the city.

After The City inquired about the delay, New York City lawyers filed a petition in the state supreme court seeking a $38,000 late fee on top of the original penalty. Now, Walter and his company owe $113,000 to Desir and the city.

The New York City Commission on Human Rights is the agency that investigates claims of income discrimination. According to a New York Times article, the agency has obtained more than $1.2 million in penalties and damages from landlords since 2014.

But Giana Desir said no one from the human rights agency has contacted her about her case in about eight months. She told The City that the only recent contact she had with the commission was “for the small ad they did”.

In 2020, Desir was featured in an anti-housing discrimination ad campaign by the New York City Commission on Human Rights for fair housing month.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

Desir said she feels “used” by the human rights agency because she hasn’t been kept apprised of her case. She said, apart from the ad, “nobody really gave a hoot”.

“It’s really kind of screwed up that people in the commission are probably only going to look back at this because someone brought attention to it when it should have been something that should have been important to them,” she told The City.

The New York City Commission on Human Rights confirmed to The City that Walter and his company hadn’t complied with the order from last year. Officials also said that Walter and his company didn’t participate in a mediation process with members of the trans community, which would have lowered the civil penalty lodged against them.

However, the commission would not respond to The City‘s questions about why Desir had not been updated about her case.

On Tuesday (23 March), a spokesperson told The City that the case had been referred to the Law Department for collection and enforcement.

Nick Paolucci, a spokesperson for the Law Department, said the agency is committed to seeking justice for Desir. Paolucci said: “We’re taking steps to enforce the commission’s order.

“We’ll hold Empire and Walter accountable – they are not above the law.”

He said it was the New York City Commission on Human Rights’ responsibility to “deal with the complainant [Giana Desir]”.

Empire State Realty & Management has been contacted for comment.

Giana Desir met Walter after she had difficulty in securing a place to live after she transitioned.

In 2015, she was denied a lease renewal on an apartment that she had lived in for two years. Desir then contacted Walter, who was “jovial” during their phone conversation”.

But when they met, Desir said Walter told her that she couldn’t be housed near “people or children”. She said Walter suggested that she rent a space in the basement and then sexually harassed her by claiming he would “spank [her]” with a ruler.

Desir also said that Walter insisted that she not tell anybody that he had helped her to secure accommodation as they would assume he “let [her] suck [his] dick”.