New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has come under fire and is facing a call to resign in the wake of several sexual harassment allegations. The claims cut short Cuomo’s previous popularity from his response to the Coronavirus, and show how quickly public perception can change.
On February 24, 2021, Lindsey Boylan, a former deputy secretary of economic development and special advisor to the New York Governor’s office, published an article on Medium, “My story of working with Governor Cuomo.” The article alleged that the governor had invited her to play “strip poker” and gave her an unwanted kiss on the lips as she was leaving his office. She described her working environment with Cuomo saying:
“Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected. His inappropriate behavior toward women was an affirmation that he liked you, that you must be doing something right. He used intimidation to silence his critics. And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences.”
Boylan had previously posted several tweets about Cuomo’s harassment, but in the midst of the more pressing news in December 2020, they had not received much attention. When Andrew Cuomo’s name came up as a possible candidate for U.S. Attorney General for the Biden Administration, she knew she had to do more.
Governor Guomo’s intimidation and abuse was a well-known secret among the New York political scene. Boylan reported that Assemblymember Ron Kim had spoken out publicly about the way he was treated while Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “the bullying is nothing new.” In reporting her own harassment, Boylan said she was one of many, but that most were too afraid to speak up.
Ms. Boylan’s article rallied several other former-staff members to come forward with their own stories. Charlotte Bennette, had resigned her position as an executive assistant and health policy advisor in November 2020. She told the New York Times that he had questioned her sex life, including asking whether she had ever had sex with older men. Andrew Cuomo allegedly commented that he would be willing to have a relationship “with anyone above the age of 22.” Ms. Bennett is 25. She said:
"I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared."
Anna Ruch came forward on March 1, 2021, saying that in September 2019, she had met Governor Cuomo at a wedding reception. She said Cuomo put his hand on her bare lower back. When she removed it, Cuomo called her “aggressive,” put his hands on her cheeks, and asked if he could kiss her. A friend nearby caught a picture of the moment.
Ana Liss, another former aide, reported that the governor asked if she had a boyfriend, kissed her hand, and greeted her by saying “Hey, sweetheart,” before hugging her and giving her a kiss on both cheeks. According to the USA today:
“In an interview, Liss said she was ‘not claiming sexual harassment per se,’ but felt the administration ‘wasn’t a safe space for young women to work.’”
Karn Hinton’s story is older. She worked as a consultant with Andrew Cuomo when he was the federal housing secretary under Bill Clinton in the 1990s. She said he called her to his hotel room where the conversation turned personal, ultimately resulting in an uncomfortably long and intimate hug.
Finally, the Times Union reported an unnamed female aide experienced direct sexual assault while in Gov. Cuomo’s employment. She reported that he reached under her blouse and groped her. That woman, apparently still employed by the governor’s office has reported his behavior to her supervisor, and an investigation is ongoing.
The allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Governor Andrew Cuomo have triggered a state-level investigation, as well as a political response from Cuomo’s fellow Democrats. Governor Cuomo issued a statement apologizing for any pain he may have caused, suggesting his joking remarks about his employees’ personal lives and relationships may have been “misinterpreted” as “unwanted flirtations.” He told reporters:
“Women have a right to come forward and be heard and I encourage that fully. . . . But I also want to be clear: There is still a question of the truth. I did not do what has been alleged. Period.”
Cuomo has authorized New York Attorney General Letitia James to appoint outside investigators, Jooh H. Kim, a former acting U.S. attorney and Anne L. Clark, a labor law attorney, to follow up on the allegations.
But several New York politicians aren’t satisfied. The State Assembly has launched an impeachment investigation through its Judiciary Committee. Thirteen of the state’s congressional representatives, including the influential Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and state Senate Majority Leader Andrew Stewart-Cousins, have called for him to resign. However, Cuomo refuses, saying those calling for his resignation are being “reckless” and “bowing to cancel culture.”
Government employees, including aides and policy advisors, are entitled to the same protections against workplace sexual harassment as other workers. This includes having their employer (the State) investigate their claims and take reasonable steps to prevent future abuse. However, when the harasser is an elected official, the internal response is limited. In those cases it may take an impeachment or a recall to remove the offending government employee.
That can be difficult when the politician in question is as popular as Andrew Cuomo. The Governor enjoyed a popularity bump due to his public statements in response to the Coronavirus in the first half of 2020. Now, in response to Ms. Boylan and her fellow aides’ allegations, it appears public opinion has begun to turn, improving the aides chances of receiving real relief for the sexual harassment and abuse they experienced while working for him.
At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, we have sexual harassment attorneys ready to help you fight back against sexual harassment within government offices. If you are a staffer facing discrimination, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.