“No elected official is above the law.”
These are the words of New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand as they called for the resignation of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday.
In March, I wrote an article — Why is Andrew Cuomo only being investigated now?— following the onslaught of sexual harassment allegations levied against the governor by several women, including two employees. It appeared then that Cuomo already had a history of sexual harassment allegations — some of which remained unanswered several years later.
New York Attorney General Letitia James’ five-month investigation — released Tuesday — concluded that Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, including various state employees.
The report compiled the extensive allegations of each accuser, including those of his former executive assistant who reported misconduct by the governor while she worked there, “including regular hugs and kisses on the cheek (and at least one kiss on the lips).”
The report also detailed her other allegations: “The governor grabbed executive assistant #1’s butt while they took a selfie in the Executive Mansion, and where the governor, during a hug, reached under executive assistant #1’s blouse and grabbed her breast.”
Ultimately, the attorney general accepted the evidence of the accusers in her report, finding: “the governor sexually harassed a number of state employees through unwelcome and unwanted touching, as well as by making numerous offensive and sexually suggestive comments”.
The report also reached the conclusion that “the culture of fear and intimidation, the normalization of inappropriate comments and interactions, and the poor enforcement of the policies and safeguards, contributed to the sexual harassment, retaliation and an overall hostile work environment in the executive chamber.”
Despite the mounting evidence, Cuomo has denied the allegations and the veracity of James’ report. In responding to the report, Cuomo said “the facts are much different than what has been portrayed,” and “I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.”
He added “I am 63 years old,” and “that is just not who I am.”
Notwithstanding his blanket denial of the allegations, the repercussions of James’ report is damning to Cuomo and his office. Many of the victims were employees and this was their workplace.
The attorney general’s probe determined unequivocally that the work environment was unsafe and hostile.
Several of the complainants have hired their own lawyers to represent them. This report is the feather in their cap.
Any civil proceedings against Cuomo and his office will rely on the evidence contained in the report.
More often than not, employees must endure character attacks, delays and strong-armed defences when alleging sexual harassment in the workplace in a civil court.
James’ report, however, has all but handed each victim a courtroom victory should they decide to proceed. When sexual harassment allegations are made, criminal charges can also follow; even if the harassment happened in the workplace.
Misconduct of the magnitude contained in James’ report can only come to pass in workplaces that see something but say nothing.
Cuomo will not be the only antagonist in this story; any who may have insulated the governor from any consequences will see their reckoning, too.