“Culture of Sexual Harassment” in Albany

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver must face a federal action brought against him by two women because of the “culture of sex-based discrimination in Albany.”

In May of 2013, Democratic Assemblyman Vito Lopez resigned from the New York Assembly rather than be expelled. Prior to his resignation, the release of an investigative report by a state ethics committee stunned the public with reports of behavior by Mr. Lopez including:

  • Requiring a female staffer to rub his hand, and insisting she share an apartment with him to “cuddle.”
  • Another female was repeatedly groped by Mr. Lopez. On one occasion, Mr. Lopez tried to make the staffer share a hotel room with him on a trip to Atlantic City. When she refused, Mr. Lopez grabbed her face and kissed her. Later, on the drive home, Mr. Lopez forced his right hand between her legs.
  • Mr. Lopez insisted staffers write flirtatious letters and texts to him, sometimes drafting them himself. He then used the letters as a defense to the allegations against him.

During the media blitz that followed the resignation of Mr. Lopez, it was discovered Mr. Silver had quietly negotiated payments to cover up previous sexual harassment and discrimination allegations against Mr. Lopez. These payments were made partially with taxpayer money. Mr. Silver became the focus of allegations for his failure to stem the rampant misconduct by Mr. Lopez.

In a June 2014 decision, U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres refused to quash a lawsuit brought against Mr. Sheldon by two female staffers harassed by Mr. Lopez. In her ruling, the judge noted, “No reasonable official (and in this case a lawyer) could have believed that turning a blind eye to Lopez’s misconduct was consistent with clearly established law.”

Employment discrimination happens everywhere — even in the legislature. If you are sexually harassed in the workplace in New York, seek experienced legal counsel.

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