Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/sexual-harassment 2018-11-19T05:19:21+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Hochul Asserts Previously Unmentioned Role in Anti-Sexual Harassment Laws 2018-08-30T04:00:00+00:00 2018-08-30T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7905-hochul-asserts-previously-unmentioned-role-in-anti-sexual-harassment-laws Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/30187700388_ef3afc845e_z.jpg" alt="Kathy Hochul" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday said she was “very much involved” in the recently signed laws aimed at combating sexual harassment in the workplace — a claim that comes in stark contrast to all prior indications that the legislation had been determined exclusively by four elected men and no elected women.</p> <p>“I was used as a resource, as someone who has lived this experience personally, which is why I’m so passionate about standing up for women,” Hochul said while debating her Democratic primary challenger, City Council Member Jumaane Williams.</p> <p>“I was there helping chart the course that the state ended up adopting,” she added, responding to a question from Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max, who moderated <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HW9uNgttqGI&amp;t=1192s" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the debate hosted by Manhattan Neighborhood Network</a>.</p> <p>Following the debate, Hochul told a group of reporters that her “views were taken into consideration” in the legislation, adding context to the apparent debate revelation, which came after months of criticism aimed at Governor Andrew Cuomo, Hochul’s running-mate, and legislative leaders, over a lack of public hearings and female input on the legislation.</p> <p>Throughout the race and the debate, Hochul has fended off criticism from Williams — an insurgent running to the lieutenant governor’s left on most issues while promising to reinvent the position if elected — who argues her role has in practice been merely a ceremonial ribbon-cutting one. She said Wednesday that not only has she had a hand in a variety of policy work, but that ribbon-cuttings should not be denigrated, given that they show something positive happening that benefits constituents.</p> <p>Although the state’s new anti-sexual harassment laws have been heavily touted by Cuomo, Hochul and their allies, there has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7845-cuomo-and-legislative-leaders-silent-amid-intensifying-calls-for-sexual-harassment-hearings" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ongoing criticism</a> that they were passed without the direct input of elected women or harassment victims. Instead, the behind-closed-doors negotiations involved four elected men: Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senator Jeff Klein, then-leader of the now-defunct Senate Independent Democratic Conference, who has been accused by a former staffer of forcibly kissing her.</p> <p>In the lead-up to those final negotiations before the larger state budget deal of which the anti-harassment bills were a part, Cuomo’s office had said that Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat and the only woman leader of a legislative conference, would be included in the talks on harassment prevention. But she was not. Amid criticism, neither the governor nor anyone from his team publicly indicated that Hochul had been involved.</p> <p>Chief among the critics of the process and product was the Sexual Harassment Working Group — a new coalition of seven women who have alleged facing sexual harassment or abuse while working in state government. One of the women, Rita Pasarell, told Gotham Gazette on Thursday that she had “not heard of Lieutenant Governor Hochul's involvement until her recent statements.” Pasarell said she “would like to hear more about what specific parts of the law she advocated for and how she believes these will help workers.”</p> <p>“I would also like to know if she has spoken to any victims who have reported sexual harassment at work, including government workers,” she added. “While the 2018 laws make some progress, there is much room for improvement.”</p> <p>She said, extent of Hochul’s role in the process aside, it would be no substitute for a “transparent public vetting for legislation.”</p> <p>“We need to create victim-informed laws by listening to workers across industries, in public hearings,” Pasarell said.</p> <p>For her part, Senator Stewart-Cousins, who was briefed on discussions but not included in them, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7707-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said in June on the Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a> that it was “strange” to her that she did not have a seat at the table when the legislation was being drafted.</p> <p>“As the only elected woman leader, and the only elected woman leader that has led a conference in the history of New York State, during this #MeToo moment, you would have thought you would have been able to get in a room and at least let her say something,” she continued. “Never happened.”</p> <p>This line of criticism prompted pushback from some in the governor’s office, who noted that there were female aides who had a hand in crafting the sexual harassment legislation.</p> <p>“Actually, I am in the room-along w other top female aides to the Senate &amp; Assembly,” Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s top aide, <a href="https://twitter.com/melissadderosa/status/978757611800727553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweeted</a> in late March, attempting to throw cold water on the assertion that no women were involved in the legislative process. “It’s sad, though not entirely surprising, that even when a woman like me is in the room helping to lead the charge, some only see a room full of men.”</p> <p>There was no mention of Hochul.</p> <p>Asked for more explanation the day after the Hochul-Williams debate, Haley Viccaro, a spokesperson for Hochul, described the lieutenant governor’s role in informing the anti-sexual harassment legislation.</p> <p>"The Lieutenant Governor often meets with women across New York and discusses issues important to them. Of course in the #MeToo era, sexual harassment is a topic that's unavoidable,” she said Thursday in a statement. “As she said, she was used as a resource as someone who has lived with this experience personally, which is why she is so passionate about standing up for women all across this country who have been silenced by men who have abused their power.”</p> <p>Viccaro went on to say that Hochul was “most focused” on ensuring that the sexual harassment policy applied to both public and private employers.</p> <p>“The Lieutenant Governor feels strongly that all New Yorkers deserve to have a safe and harassment-free workplace, and she has been very vocal that there must be a standard that reflects our seismic societal shift to a culture that treats men and women equally," she said.</p> <p>In a statement, Dani Lever, a spokesperson for Governor Cuomo, echoed the sentiment expressed by the lieutenant governor during Wednesday’s debate.</p> <p>“The Lieutenant Governor’s leadership and partnership in advocating for causes important to women across the state has been indispensable,” she said, “including her strong advocacy for extending the state’s sexual harassment model policies to private employers which will make workplaces safer for all New Yorkers.”</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/30187700388_ef3afc845e_z.jpg" alt="Kathy Hochul" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday said she was “very much involved” in the recently signed laws aimed at combating sexual harassment in the workplace — a claim that comes in stark contrast to all prior indications that the legislation had been determined exclusively by four elected men and no elected women.</p> <p>“I was used as a resource, as someone who has lived this experience personally, which is why I’m so passionate about standing up for women,” Hochul said while debating her Democratic primary challenger, City Council Member Jumaane Williams.</p> <p>“I was there helping chart the course that the state ended up adopting,” she added, responding to a question from Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max, who moderated <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HW9uNgttqGI&amp;t=1192s" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the debate hosted by Manhattan Neighborhood Network</a>.</p> <p>Following the debate, Hochul told a group of reporters that her “views were taken into consideration” in the legislation, adding context to the apparent debate revelation, which came after months of criticism aimed at Governor Andrew Cuomo, Hochul’s running-mate, and legislative leaders, over a lack of public hearings and female input on the legislation.</p> <p>Throughout the race and the debate, Hochul has fended off criticism from Williams — an insurgent running to the lieutenant governor’s left on most issues while promising to reinvent the position if elected — who argues her role has in practice been merely a ceremonial ribbon-cutting one. She said Wednesday that not only has she had a hand in a variety of policy work, but that ribbon-cuttings should not be denigrated, given that they show something positive happening that benefits constituents.</p> <p>Although the state’s new anti-sexual harassment laws have been heavily touted by Cuomo, Hochul and their allies, there has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7845-cuomo-and-legislative-leaders-silent-amid-intensifying-calls-for-sexual-harassment-hearings" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ongoing criticism</a> that they were passed without the direct input of elected women or harassment victims. Instead, the behind-closed-doors negotiations involved four elected men: Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senator Jeff Klein, then-leader of the now-defunct Senate Independent Democratic Conference, who has been accused by a former staffer of forcibly kissing her.</p> <p>In the lead-up to those final negotiations before the larger state budget deal of which the anti-harassment bills were a part, Cuomo’s office had said that Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat and the only woman leader of a legislative conference, would be included in the talks on harassment prevention. But she was not. Amid criticism, neither the governor nor anyone from his team publicly indicated that Hochul had been involved.</p> <p>Chief among the critics of the process and product was the Sexual Harassment Working Group — a new coalition of seven women who have alleged facing sexual harassment or abuse while working in state government. One of the women, Rita Pasarell, told Gotham Gazette on Thursday that she had “not heard of Lieutenant Governor Hochul's involvement until her recent statements.” Pasarell said she “would like to hear more about what specific parts of the law she advocated for and how she believes these will help workers.”</p> <p>“I would also like to know if she has spoken to any victims who have reported sexual harassment at work, including government workers,” she added. “While the 2018 laws make some progress, there is much room for improvement.”</p> <p>She said, extent of Hochul’s role in the process aside, it would be no substitute for a “transparent public vetting for legislation.”</p> <p>“We need to create victim-informed laws by listening to workers across industries, in public hearings,” Pasarell said.</p> <p>For her part, Senator Stewart-Cousins, who was briefed on discussions but not included in them, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7707-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said in June on the Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a> that it was “strange” to her that she did not have a seat at the table when the legislation was being drafted.</p> <p>“As the only elected woman leader, and the only elected woman leader that has led a conference in the history of New York State, during this #MeToo moment, you would have thought you would have been able to get in a room and at least let her say something,” she continued. “Never happened.”</p> <p>This line of criticism prompted pushback from some in the governor’s office, who noted that there were female aides who had a hand in crafting the sexual harassment legislation.</p> <p>“Actually, I am in the room-along w other top female aides to the Senate &amp; Assembly,” Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s top aide, <a href="https://twitter.com/melissadderosa/status/978757611800727553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweeted</a> in late March, attempting to throw cold water on the assertion that no women were involved in the legislative process. “It’s sad, though not entirely surprising, that even when a woman like me is in the room helping to lead the charge, some only see a room full of men.”</p> <p>There was no mention of Hochul.</p> <p>Asked for more explanation the day after the Hochul-Williams debate, Haley Viccaro, a spokesperson for Hochul, described the lieutenant governor’s role in informing the anti-sexual harassment legislation.</p> <p>"The Lieutenant Governor often meets with women across New York and discusses issues important to them. Of course in the #MeToo era, sexual harassment is a topic that's unavoidable,” she said Thursday in a statement. “As she said, she was used as a resource as someone who has lived with this experience personally, which is why she is so passionate about standing up for women all across this country who have been silenced by men who have abused their power.”</p> <p>Viccaro went on to say that Hochul was “most focused” on ensuring that the sexual harassment policy applied to both public and private employers.</p> <p>“The Lieutenant Governor feels strongly that all New Yorkers deserve to have a safe and harassment-free workplace, and she has been very vocal that there must be a standard that reflects our seismic societal shift to a culture that treats men and women equally," she said.</p> <p>In a statement, Dani Lever, a spokesperson for Governor Cuomo, echoed the sentiment expressed by the lieutenant governor during Wednesday’s debate.</p> <p>“The Lieutenant Governor’s leadership and partnership in advocating for causes important to women across the state has been indispensable,” she said, “including her strong advocacy for extending the state’s sexual harassment model policies to private employers which will make workplaces safer for all New Yorkers.”</p> <p> </p> Cuomo and Legislative Leaders Silent Amid Intensifying Calls for Sexual Harassment Hearings 2018-08-06T04:00:00+00:00 2018-08-06T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7845-cuomo-and-legislative-leaders-silent-amid-intensifying-calls-for-sexual-harassment-hearings Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/8967996833_7739e76434_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Women's Equality Act presser 2013" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo in 2013 (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As part of the #MeToo movement, a group of women who experienced sexual harassment or abuse while working in New York state government have for months been advocating for public hearings on the culture that enables that misconduct in government, especially the state capital, and in the private sector. Their calls have intensified -- and been echoed by prominent women running for state elected offices this year -- after Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders passed new anti-harassment laws without any public hearings and without going far enough, according to the women.</p> <p>Those calls have fallen on deaf ears from the men who control state government, however, with Cuomo touting the new laws as the “strongest in the nation” as he seeks a third term and leaders of the Assembly and Senate, including one accused of forcibly kissing an aide, largely remaining silent.</p> <p>The Sexual Harassment Working Group, seven women who launched the <a href="https://www.harassmentfreealbany.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener">#HarassmentFreeAlbany</a> movement, have criticized the Democratic governor and bi-partisan Legislature for passing an inadequate package of anti-sexual harassment legislation in this year’s budget, agreed upon in late March. The policies were negotiated by Cuomo, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senator Jeff Klein, then-leader of the Independent Democratic Conference that has since rejoined the mainline Democrats.</p> <p>The criticism that the “four men in a room” had for years epitomized the opacity of state budget negotiations was made all the more stark by the fact that they decided how to tackle sexual harassment without hearings, without significant consultation with female legislators -- including the lone woman to lead a legislative conference, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who had been promised a seat at the table -- and without those who had been subject to harassment or abuse, as well as the glaring inclusion of Klein, who was accused earlier this year of forcibly kissing a staffer in 2015 outside an Albany bar. Klein’s accuser, Erica Vladimer is among the members of The Sexual Harassment Working Group. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In consultation with experts, the group has issued a set of recommendations for enacting stronger anti-harassment protections and have been joined in their cause by the likes of Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who is running for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, and actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, along with rank-and-file state legislators and other advocates.</p> <p>At a news conference in Manhattan on Wednesday, August 1, Vladimer, other members of the group, and Zenaida Mendez, former President of NOW New York, appeared with Nixon, urging Cuomo to take action.</p> <p>“It’s time to stop putting politics over human rights,” Vladimer said, “and the first way we can do that is with public hearings...where workers from every industry -- government, retail, food service, hospitality -- can be heard by those we elect to legislatie on our behalf and those who are appointed to enforce those protections.”</p> <p>Nixon, running to be the first woman elected governor of New York, issued scathing remarks against Cuomo. “New Yorkers deserve better than a governor who ignores victims and chooses instead to protect and sometimes even promote those accused of harassment and worse,” she said. The first-time candidate recently released <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpQcWf8rfa0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a video ad</a> that cut back-and-forth between footage of Cuomo and President Donald Trump using similar rhetoric that smacks of ‘toxic masculinity.’</p> <p>In <a href="https://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/State-must-hold-sexual-harassment-hearings-13131053.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">an editorial for the Albany Times Union</a> on Friday, two members of the group, Leah Hebert and Rita Pasarell, who were subjected to harassment by former Assemblymember Vito Lopez when they worked in his office, criticized Cuomo for his “strongest in the nation” claim about New York’s new anti-sexual harassment laws.</p> <p>“[E]ven after accounting for rhetorical hyperbole in an election year, the new measures fall far short of what's needed,” Hebert and Pasarell wrote. “They lack teeth for enforcement. They fail to address many obstacles that prevent victims from seeking redress in court. They do nothing to fix the pervasive abuse in Albany, highlighted by more than 100 current and former state employees in an open letter. These new measures were passed in the same way gender-based harassment and discrimination often happen: behind closed doors.”&nbsp;</p> <p>They noted how the New York City Council recently passed its own set of bills on sexual harassment after holding hearings to solicit testimony from those affected by it and from experts. The Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act included almost a dozen bills that were crafted after multiple hours-long hearings of the Council’s Committee on Women and the Committee on Civil and Human Rights. The bills, signed into law by the mayor, mandated, among other things, anti-sexual harassment trainings at city agencies and in private businesses, increased transparency from agencies on harassment complaints, stronger protections under the city’s human rights law, and added reporting requirements for city contractors.</p> <p>Besides the open and very public process compared with how the new state policies were created, the city laws appear to be somewhat more expansive. The state policies require state contractors to provide anti-harassment training to all employees, prohibit mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment complaints, ban non-disclosure agreements unless a victim demands one, and extend harassment protections to non-traditional employees such as freelanders, contractors, and vendors. A broader model policy is still due from the state Division of Human Rights, which is meant to apply across the public and private sectors.</p> <p>Cuomo, Heastie, and Flanagan, on the other hand, have shown no indication that they are listening. Spokespeople for all three officials did not respond to, or even acknowledge, requests for comment from Gotham Gazette about why there have been no public hearings, whether they are open to the idea, or if they had reviewed the recommendations put out by the Sexual Harassment Working Group. A Cuomo spokesperson <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7764-pointing-to-deficiencies-victims-call-for-changes-to-state-s-new-sexual-harassment-policies" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told Gotham Gazette</a> in late June that the administrations did “look forward to reviewing these recommendations,” but there’s no indication that has happened.</p> <p>Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, also backed the call for public hearings on Thursday. “I pledge to insist on such hearings in Albany next year, should I be honored to be elected governor in November,” he said. “Albany’s culture will change. The coverups we have seen under Andrew Cuomo’s tenure are inexcusable and wrong.”</p> <p>Molinaro, Nixon, and other Cuomo opponents and critics have also been seizing on <a href="https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Filing-suggests-Cuomo-s-office-knew-female-DCJS-13123758.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recent revelations reported by the Albany Times Union</a> around how victims of sexual harassment have been treated within the broader executive branch.</p> <p>In the attorney general race, Teachout has been vocal about using the office’s power, if she is elected, to investigate sexual harassment, even in the private sector if it happens under her jurisdiction. Teachout also joined the Sexual Harassment Working Group when they were in Albany last month pressing their demands.</p> <p>“The idea that New York State — in the middle of a national #TimesUp movement, after the Harvey Weinstein scandal, after all these scandals — that New York has not fixed its own problem is a total shame and disaster and suggests that our old boys club isn’t only covering up corruption but also covering up sexual misconduct,” Teachout said at the news conference, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2018/07/23/women-call-for-public-hearings-on-anti-harassment-measures-523305" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Politico New York reported.</a>&nbsp;She urged her three Democratic primary opponents to join the calls for hearings and improved laws.</p> <p>Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, also running for attorney general, has called for a “full-scale investigation” into harassment in state government. Leecia Eve, a former Cuomo and Hillary Clinton aide now running for attorney general, also supports holding hearings, according to a campaign spokesperson.</p> <p>Delaney Kempner, a campaign spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James, who is the State Democratic Party’s preferred candidate for attorney general and has cross-endorsed with Cuomo, sent a statement to Gotham Gazette that touted work James has done co-sponsoring legislation on mandatory sexual harassment training and reporting, and advocating against forced arbitration clauses in employment contracts.</p> <p>But the statement did not indicate whether James supports the call for hearings on sexual harassment in state government and beyond or believes that the new state laws passed are sufficient. “It is clear that our laws have not protected women in the workforce from harassment and abuse, both in Albany and across the state…,” Kempner said. “We must improve our laws and change our culture. As Attorney General, Tish will continue to stand up for the women of New York and investigate anyone who seeks to abuse or harass us. That is how we make lasting change.”</p> <p>[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7764-pointing-to-deficiencies-victims-call-for-changes-to-state-s-new-sexual-harassment-policies">Pointing to Deficiencies, Victims Call for Changes to State’s New Sexual Harassment Policies</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/8967996833_7739e76434_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Women's Equality Act presser 2013" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo in 2013 (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As part of the #MeToo movement, a group of women who experienced sexual harassment or abuse while working in New York state government have for months been advocating for public hearings on the culture that enables that misconduct in government, especially the state capital, and in the private sector. Their calls have intensified -- and been echoed by prominent women running for state elected offices this year -- after Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders passed new anti-harassment laws without any public hearings and without going far enough, according to the women.</p> <p>Those calls have fallen on deaf ears from the men who control state government, however, with Cuomo touting the new laws as the “strongest in the nation” as he seeks a third term and leaders of the Assembly and Senate, including one accused of forcibly kissing an aide, largely remaining silent.</p> <p>The Sexual Harassment Working Group, seven women who launched the <a href="https://www.harassmentfreealbany.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener">#HarassmentFreeAlbany</a> movement, have criticized the Democratic governor and bi-partisan Legislature for passing an inadequate package of anti-sexual harassment legislation in this year’s budget, agreed upon in late March. The policies were negotiated by Cuomo, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senator Jeff Klein, then-leader of the Independent Democratic Conference that has since rejoined the mainline Democrats.</p> <p>The criticism that the “four men in a room” had for years epitomized the opacity of state budget negotiations was made all the more stark by the fact that they decided how to tackle sexual harassment without hearings, without significant consultation with female legislators -- including the lone woman to lead a legislative conference, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who had been promised a seat at the table -- and without those who had been subject to harassment or abuse, as well as the glaring inclusion of Klein, who was accused earlier this year of forcibly kissing a staffer in 2015 outside an Albany bar. Klein’s accuser, Erica Vladimer is among the members of The Sexual Harassment Working Group. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In consultation with experts, the group has issued a set of recommendations for enacting stronger anti-harassment protections and have been joined in their cause by the likes of Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who is running for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, and actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, along with rank-and-file state legislators and other advocates.</p> <p>At a news conference in Manhattan on Wednesday, August 1, Vladimer, other members of the group, and Zenaida Mendez, former President of NOW New York, appeared with Nixon, urging Cuomo to take action.</p> <p>“It’s time to stop putting politics over human rights,” Vladimer said, “and the first way we can do that is with public hearings...where workers from every industry -- government, retail, food service, hospitality -- can be heard by those we elect to legislatie on our behalf and those who are appointed to enforce those protections.”</p> <p>Nixon, running to be the first woman elected governor of New York, issued scathing remarks against Cuomo. “New Yorkers deserve better than a governor who ignores victims and chooses instead to protect and sometimes even promote those accused of harassment and worse,” she said. The first-time candidate recently released <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpQcWf8rfa0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a video ad</a> that cut back-and-forth between footage of Cuomo and President Donald Trump using similar rhetoric that smacks of ‘toxic masculinity.’</p> <p>In <a href="https://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/State-must-hold-sexual-harassment-hearings-13131053.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">an editorial for the Albany Times Union</a> on Friday, two members of the group, Leah Hebert and Rita Pasarell, who were subjected to harassment by former Assemblymember Vito Lopez when they worked in his office, criticized Cuomo for his “strongest in the nation” claim about New York’s new anti-sexual harassment laws.</p> <p>“[E]ven after accounting for rhetorical hyperbole in an election year, the new measures fall far short of what's needed,” Hebert and Pasarell wrote. “They lack teeth for enforcement. They fail to address many obstacles that prevent victims from seeking redress in court. They do nothing to fix the pervasive abuse in Albany, highlighted by more than 100 current and former state employees in an open letter. These new measures were passed in the same way gender-based harassment and discrimination often happen: behind closed doors.”&nbsp;</p> <p>They noted how the New York City Council recently passed its own set of bills on sexual harassment after holding hearings to solicit testimony from those affected by it and from experts. The Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act included almost a dozen bills that were crafted after multiple hours-long hearings of the Council’s Committee on Women and the Committee on Civil and Human Rights. The bills, signed into law by the mayor, mandated, among other things, anti-sexual harassment trainings at city agencies and in private businesses, increased transparency from agencies on harassment complaints, stronger protections under the city’s human rights law, and added reporting requirements for city contractors.</p> <p>Besides the open and very public process compared with how the new state policies were created, the city laws appear to be somewhat more expansive. The state policies require state contractors to provide anti-harassment training to all employees, prohibit mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment complaints, ban non-disclosure agreements unless a victim demands one, and extend harassment protections to non-traditional employees such as freelanders, contractors, and vendors. A broader model policy is still due from the state Division of Human Rights, which is meant to apply across the public and private sectors.</p> <p>Cuomo, Heastie, and Flanagan, on the other hand, have shown no indication that they are listening. Spokespeople for all three officials did not respond to, or even acknowledge, requests for comment from Gotham Gazette about why there have been no public hearings, whether they are open to the idea, or if they had reviewed the recommendations put out by the Sexual Harassment Working Group. A Cuomo spokesperson <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7764-pointing-to-deficiencies-victims-call-for-changes-to-state-s-new-sexual-harassment-policies" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told Gotham Gazette</a> in late June that the administrations did “look forward to reviewing these recommendations,” but there’s no indication that has happened.</p> <p>Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, also backed the call for public hearings on Thursday. “I pledge to insist on such hearings in Albany next year, should I be honored to be elected governor in November,” he said. “Albany’s culture will change. The coverups we have seen under Andrew Cuomo’s tenure are inexcusable and wrong.”</p> <p>Molinaro, Nixon, and other Cuomo opponents and critics have also been seizing on <a href="https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Filing-suggests-Cuomo-s-office-knew-female-DCJS-13123758.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recent revelations reported by the Albany Times Union</a> around how victims of sexual harassment have been treated within the broader executive branch.</p> <p>In the attorney general race, Teachout has been vocal about using the office’s power, if she is elected, to investigate sexual harassment, even in the private sector if it happens under her jurisdiction. Teachout also joined the Sexual Harassment Working Group when they were in Albany last month pressing their demands.</p> <p>“The idea that New York State — in the middle of a national #TimesUp movement, after the Harvey Weinstein scandal, after all these scandals — that New York has not fixed its own problem is a total shame and disaster and suggests that our old boys club isn’t only covering up corruption but also covering up sexual misconduct,” Teachout said at the news conference, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2018/07/23/women-call-for-public-hearings-on-anti-harassment-measures-523305" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Politico New York reported.</a>&nbsp;She urged her three Democratic primary opponents to join the calls for hearings and improved laws.</p> <p>Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, also running for attorney general, has called for a “full-scale investigation” into harassment in state government. Leecia Eve, a former Cuomo and Hillary Clinton aide now running for attorney general, also supports holding hearings, according to a campaign spokesperson.</p> <p>Delaney Kempner, a campaign spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James, who is the State Democratic Party’s preferred candidate for attorney general and has cross-endorsed with Cuomo, sent a statement to Gotham Gazette that touted work James has done co-sponsoring legislation on mandatory sexual harassment training and reporting, and advocating against forced arbitration clauses in employment contracts.</p> <p>But the statement did not indicate whether James supports the call for hearings on sexual harassment in state government and beyond or believes that the new state laws passed are sufficient. “It is clear that our laws have not protected women in the workforce from harassment and abuse, both in Albany and across the state…,” Kempner said. “We must improve our laws and change our culture. As Attorney General, Tish will continue to stand up for the women of New York and investigate anyone who seeks to abuse or harass us. That is how we make lasting change.”</p> <p>[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7764-pointing-to-deficiencies-victims-call-for-changes-to-state-s-new-sexual-harassment-policies">Pointing to Deficiencies, Victims Call for Changes to State’s New Sexual Harassment Policies</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Max & Murphy Podcast: The Long Fight for New City Sexual Harassment Laws 2018-06-25T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7767-max-murphy-podcast-the-long-fight-for-new-city-sexual-harassment-laws Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>June 25, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: The Long Fight for New City Sexual Harassment Laws, with <strong>City Council Member Helen Rosenthal and&nbsp;</strong>former Comptroller, Brooklyn District Attorney and Congressional Rep. Liz Holtzman<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/rosenthal-holtzman-pod-277.jpg" alt="rosenthal holtzman pod 277" width="277" height="143" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>When Liz Holtzman was city Comptroller -- the first and only woman to hold that office -- she sought to determine city agency policies around sexual harassment and was met with resistance. Twenty-five years later amid the #MeToo movement, Holtzman wrote a Daily News op-ed in February of this year that recounted her experience and discussed the need to make public city policies and data on harassment complaints. That op-ed helped spur City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Council's Committee on Women, to jumpstart an effort that led to an 11-bill package of legislation, now law, to prevent and punish sexual harassment, both in city government and the private sector.</p> <p>Holtzman and Rosenthal joined the podcast to discuss their efforts, the details of the new laws, what comes next, and much more about fighting harassment, assault, and gender discrimination -- including Holtzman's work as the first woman elected to become one of the city's district attorneys.</p> <p>Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a> with <a href="https://and%20twitter.com/HelenRosenthal" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@HelenRosenthal</a> and Liz Holtzman. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/463244265&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>June 25, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: The Long Fight for New City Sexual Harassment Laws, with <strong>City Council Member Helen Rosenthal and&nbsp;</strong>former Comptroller, Brooklyn District Attorney and Congressional Rep. Liz Holtzman<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/rosenthal-holtzman-pod-277.jpg" alt="rosenthal holtzman pod 277" width="277" height="143" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>When Liz Holtzman was city Comptroller -- the first and only woman to hold that office -- she sought to determine city agency policies around sexual harassment and was met with resistance. Twenty-five years later amid the #MeToo movement, Holtzman wrote a Daily News op-ed in February of this year that recounted her experience and discussed the need to make public city policies and data on harassment complaints. That op-ed helped spur City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Council's Committee on Women, to jumpstart an effort that led to an 11-bill package of legislation, now law, to prevent and punish sexual harassment, both in city government and the private sector.</p> <p>Holtzman and Rosenthal joined the podcast to discuss their efforts, the details of the new laws, what comes next, and much more about fighting harassment, assault, and gender discrimination -- including Holtzman's work as the first woman elected to become one of the city's district attorneys.</p> <p>Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a> with <a href="https://and%20twitter.com/HelenRosenthal" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@HelenRosenthal</a> and Liz Holtzman. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/463244265&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Pointing to Deficiencies, Victims Call for Changes to State’s New Sexual Harassment Policies 2018-06-24T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-24T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7764-pointing-to-deficiencies-victims-call-for-changes-to-state-s-new-sexual-harassment-policies Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/gov-cuomo-bill-clinton-electoral.jpg" alt="gov cuomo bill clinton electoral" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The problem of sexual harassment in New York state politics is systemic and plaguing young women beginning their careers, according to a group fighting to change the culture and the laws around the issue. And, they argue that recently adopted state measures to fight the scourge are insufficient, despite being touted by Governor Andrew Cuomo as “the best in the nation.”</p> <p>The seven women of The Sexual Harassment Working Group -- all of whom have been personally affected by sexual harassment while working for lawmakers in the New York State Legislature -- have consulted a handful of advocacy and legal groups, and called upon their own experiences and expertise, to put together a detailed report with recommendations for ways to better protect women working in government.</p> <p>“We wonder why there aren’t women in higher office, we wonder why women are so underrepesented in our legislature and in all levels of our government. And this is a big part of why: It does not feel safe to work in government if you’re a woman,” co-author Eliyanna Kaiser, a one-time chief of staff to former Assemblymember Micah Kellner, said during an event in Manhattan on June 19. Kaiser was not herself directly a victim of sexual harassment, but instead reported to Bill Collins in the Assembly Counsel's office, under former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, that Kellner had been sending inappropriate messages to one of his staffers, which led to initial inaction, attacks against Kaiser, and, eventually, Kellner’s ouster from the state Legislature.</p> <p>Also on the panel were working group members and co-authors Danielle Bennett, former administrative assistant to Kellner who reported his harassment to Kaiser; Leah Hebert, former chief of staff to the late, disgraced Assemblymember Vito Lopez; Tori Burhans Kelly, former legislative aide to Lopez; Rita Pasarell, former legislative counsel and deputy chief of staff to Lopez; Erica Vladimer, former education policy analyst and counsel for the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC); and Elizabeth Crothers, former legislative aide in the New York State Assembly who publicly accused Assembly lawyer Michael Boxley of rape in 2003, two years after the alleged incident and when another victim of Boxley’s came forward. The discussion was moderated by political consultant and columnist Alexis Grenell, who has helped bring to light victims’ experiences as well as the insufficient responses from government officials.</p> <p>The stories of these women run together in a horror plot that involves countless obstacles to reporting, near-dismissal, and a reluctance to investigate from those in charge, as well as forcibly implemented nondisclosure agreements that hinder the complainant's chances of reemployment and their ability to warn others.</p> <p>“I agreed not to file a civil suit in exchange for [him to get] a HIV test,” Crothers said, adding the “loss of anonymity” after going public “follows you.”</p> <p>“I really didn’t think there was another way out aside from suicide,” said Hebert, who was one of the first women to complain about Lopez groping and harassing female staffers, of her experience.</p> <p>“These things that are happening are not the product of an individual harasser, they’re not mistakes,” Pasarell, another complainant against Lopez, added. “It’s massive, it’s systemic, and whenever I hear a new person coming out I say, ‘hey remember us, remember this happened to us in 2012?’”</p> <p>It’s a cycle that exploits women and protects men who behave abhorrently and, as Grenell pointed out, it’s a reality yet unchanged by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s <a href="https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2018/04/02/does-new-yorks-new-sexual-harassment-laws-go-far-enough/478703002/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">claims</a> that New York has the “strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation” following the recent budget, wherein the anti-harassment legislation was passed. Grenell compared the governor’s statement to the “mission accomplished sign” former President George W. Bush stood in front of during 2003 remarks about the war in Iraq, only two months after the U.S. first invaded.</p> <p>The Working Group is calling for Cuomo to hold public hearings to listen to victims of sexual harassment -- as its members demanded before the policies were decided by all-male leadership with little apparent regard for the opinions of victims. The group’s <a href="https://www.harassmentfreealbany.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Harassment-Free Albany</a> website states: “New York State has not held a state hearing on sexual harassment since Governor Mario Cuomo [Andrew Cuomo’s father] created a Sexual Harassment Task Force in 1992.”</p> <p>The reporting system has no transparency for complainants, limited uniformity, and an obvious lack of objectivity, the panel urges. For example, when Vladimer, who this January publicly accused now-Deputy Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein of kissing her forcibly and against her will outside a bar in 2015, was asked where her case is at now, she said she has no idea.</p> <p>“Your guess is as good as mine,” Vladimer told event attendees on Tuesday. “[It’s with] the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics [JCOPE], which under some very vague executive law somehow has the authority to investigate sexual harassment claims. There are no experts on this commission and the commissioners who vote to decide whether or not there is wrongdoing are all appointed by elected officials.” They are also <a href="https://www.jcope.ny.gov/commissioners" target="_blank" rel="noopener">almost all men</a>, with one woman in 14 commissioners.</p> <p>“I don’t know where my investigation is and I think that’s one of the biggest things we’ve talked about is that there is no transparency and I know, and have been told, I don’t have a right to know where my investigation’s going,” Vladimer added.</p> <p>When Vladimer went public, Klein immediately denied the allegations, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said the Senate would not investigate given no formal complaint had been lodged with its internal staff. Klein himself asked JCOPE to investigate, but other than Klein indicating an investigation had commenced, there is little information to go by.</p> <p>In the lead-up to the new state budget, Cuomo had called for sweeping anti-sexual harassment policies, including greater resources for and <a href="https://www.wivb.com/news/local-news/governor-cuomo-delivers-his-state-of-the-state-address/1083202760" target="_blank" rel="noopener">transparency</a> in JCOPE investigations. While Cuomo pushed through some measures, those JCOPE recommendations were not among what was passed into law.</p> <p>The same Klein accused of sexually harassing Vladimer was one of the three other elected men, and no elected women, who assisted Cuomo in deciding the sexual harassment legislation this March, ahead of the annual budget. According to the <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=S07507&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Committee&amp;nbspVotes=Y&amp;Floor&amp;nbspVotes=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y&amp;LFIN=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a>, there are five measures designed to address sexual harassment in state politics -- as the governor’s office puts it, to “further build upon his 2018 Women’s Agenda for New York.”</p> <p>In a press release announcing highlights of the new budget in March, Cuomo said, "We put into place the strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation, ending once and for all the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled this unacceptable behavior for far too long.”</p> <p>Under the new legislation, all employers working with the state, including vendors and contractors, must implement a written policy addressing sexual harassment prevention and provide prevention training to all employees. This is an extension of a previously-existing law to include contracted workers, and means that employers may now be held liable for the sexual harassment of non-employees if the employer knew, or should have known, of the harassment and failed to take action. It does not, however, address the ambiguity around employees of elected officials.</p> <p>The Sexual Harassment Working Group is recommending the definition of “employee” be changed to clearly include employees of elected and appointed officials, and that the New York State Human Rights Law should stipulate elected officials are also considered “employers.”</p> <p>“Our recommendation is to specify employees as everybody -- essentially someone for hire -- this is how the labor law defines it and we just want every worker to have the same protection, including staff of elected officials,” Pasarell told Tuesday night’s event.</p> <p>In the new legislation, New York employers are prohibited from requiring mandatory arbitration of claims of workplace sexual harassment, except where inconsistent with federal law, and this will come into effect in July.</p> <p>Any officers and employees of the state or any public entity who is subject to a final judgement of personal liability in cases of sexual harassment will have to reimburse the state for the award given to the complainant, however the Sexual Harassment Working Group points out this is only applicable for cases determined by a judge, not necessarily to those settled out of court.</p> <p>Cuomo’s legislation also states no employer has the authority to include or agree to include in any settlement a nondisclosure agreement, unless the condition of confidentiality is the complainant’s preference. And, notably, a model sexual harassment guidance document and a sexual harassment prevention policy is to be created with the Division of Human Right by October -- meaning a key portion of the new policy is not yet written.</p> <p>“This year, Governor Cuomo signed the strongest anti-sexual harassment policy in the country,” Dani Lever, press secretary for Cuomo, told Gotham Gazette in a statement. “It closed gaping loopholes that entrapped women in toxic workplaces, extended protections to contracted workers, and strengthened rules that prevent companies from shirking their responsibility to root out bad actors—instead of sweeping problems under-the-rug.”</p> <p>On the surface, all measures included in the<a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/press/2018/pr-enactfy19.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> enacted budget</a> appear to go a long way towards exactly what the governor is promising but, according to the panel of women who’ve experienced sexual harassment in state politics first-hand, there are some areas of ambiguity that impede the path to reporting and justice for potential victims.</p> <p>First, the budget hasn’t defined “sexual harassment” and the way the issue is currently treated under state law leaves much room for interpretation. The Sexual Harassment Working Group recommends adding “sex and gender” to the list of classes protected from discrimination in the New York State Constitution, to offer another level of protection for all New Yorkers, including victims. And the authors suggest the current standard for behavior to qualify as sexual harassment in state law -- that it must be “severe or pervasive” -- be changed to mirror the recent changes to New York City law, where the standard for discrimination and harassment reads simply that the person is treated “less well.”</p> <p>“When you’re talking about standards in law, the ‘litigative itch,’ as they call it, is all in these terms,” Kaiser said. “People are always going to bicker about the actual event that happened. We’d prefer that bickering to be asking, ‘didn’t he treat her less well?’ Rather than, ‘was it severe and pervasive?’”</p> <p>The working group is also calling for an independent body to oversee all discrimination harassment policy enforcement. At the moment, JCOPE members are appointed by state elected officials. Of the 14 members, three are appointed by the Temporary President of the Senate, three are appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly, one is appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate, one is appointed by the Minority Leader of the Assembly, and six are appointed by the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor.</p> <p>Many of the stories from the women in The Sexual Harassment Working Group involve some level of disbelief from those charged with investigating their reports of sexual harassment. In Crothers’ case, it wasn’t only disbelief, it was outright protection of her alleged attacker.</p> <p>“Before it came out in the press and when I met with the speaker [Sheldon Silver], I didn’t feel he didn’t believe me, he just said ‘well I won’t let him go out to bars anymore and my first priority is protecting the institution,’” Crothers said at the panel event. Silver resigned as speaker in 2015 after being arrested on federal corruption charges, and long after being accused of facilitating former Assemblymember Lopez’s harassment of eight women who were on his staff. The panelists believe this culture of cover-up and protection will continue unless there is an independent body appointed to investigate, and determine, reports of sexual misconduct in Albany.</p> <p>It’s the Lopez example that best shows the need for further restrictions around the use of nondisclosure agreements, beyond what is outlined in the new legislation. Two of the women in the working group, who were on the panel, ultimately signed nondisclosure agreements after accusing the former Assembly member of sexual harassment and groping. They said they didn’t want a nondisclosure agreement -- it wasn’t implemented to protect their privacy -- but it was offered to them as a ‘take it or leave it’ measure.</p> <p>“We wanted an investigation, we asked multiple times for an investigation,” Hebert said. Hebert’s name went public, despite her having signed a nondisclosure agreement, when reports from other victims were published by the media ahead of Lopez’s resignation in 2013. Instead of an investigation, Hebert said she, along with Pasarell, were made to sign nondisclosure agreements and were told Lopez would go through sexual harassment prevention training.</p> <p>“The NDA, it wasn’t just that...we couldn’t speak to anyone,” Hebert said. “It was, at first, $10,000 in liquidated damages if we broke it for every occurence, and it would happen with a mediator behind closed doors so no one would know they were enforcing the agreement. And it also contained a provision that we could never apply to the Assembly again.” This last measure effectively limiting their opportunities to work in state government, and the fine making it impossible for the complainants to explain their circumstances to future employers, file for unemployment benefits, or warn others or the Human Rights Division of Lopez’s behavior.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>They pushed back on their exclusion from the Assembly and the response was, “we could never apply to Lopez’s office again, which was fine, but they increased our liquidated damages cost to $20,000,” Hebert said.</p> <p>Pasarell, another of Lopez’s victims, said the anti-sexual harassment legislation in the budget regarding nondisclosure agreements -- that they can only be used in cases where the complainant consents -- can too easily be twisted to benefit the harasser.</p> <p>“The way they phrased the new law is for the complainant to have a nondisclosure agreement, it’s got to be the complainant’s preference. In our case we saw repeatedly how the Assembly portrayed it as if it was our preference when it absolutely was not,” she said. “The nondisclosure agreement came to us very late in the game and it was ‘take it or leave it.’”</p> <p>Women reporting sexual harassment will be better assisted, The Sexual Harassment Working Group argues, if the Legislature provides greater protection against victim coercion into signing nondisclosure agreements. The group also recommends the law allow for individual liability, so harassers can be targeted without taking the Legislature or State to arbitration or court. And, in cases where complainants do want a nondisclosure agreement for confidentiality reasons, there should be a “Sunshine in Litigation” law to prevent serial harassers (who’ve offended at least once prior) from re-offending. “Limited information would be shared but a pattern of harassment would be outed,” Pasarell said.</p> <p>The way to change the culture of sexual harassment and exploitation is through changing the law, The Sexual Harassment Working Group maintains, and the way to do that is through consulting with victims, advocacy groups, and others, including lawmakers -- a process much more extensive than how Cuomo and legislative leaders, all men, went about it.</p> <p>In response to The Sexual Harassment Working Group’s report, Cuomo’s team said it will review the recommendations but gave no indication of whether or not they will consider holding or pushing for a public hearing on the issue.</p> <p>“No woman should ever be violated, let alone in the workplace—period. And that’s why Governor Cuomo has championed measures that hold employers accountable for ensuring a hospitable workplace,” Lever, Cuomo’s press secretary, told Gotham Gazette. “The ‘Me Too’ movement has caused an awakening in our society, and while we’ve taken positive concrete steps in New York, we need to continue to see progress in our state and across the country. We look forward to reviewing these recommendations and continuing this important work.”</p> <p>

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Lopez allegedly harassed eight women on 33 counts, not 33 women; that two, not three, of the women mentioned signed NDAs; and that Kaiser reported Kellner's behavior to the Assembly counsel's office, not Speaker Silver directly.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/gov-cuomo-bill-clinton-electoral.jpg" alt="gov cuomo bill clinton electoral" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The problem of sexual harassment in New York state politics is systemic and plaguing young women beginning their careers, according to a group fighting to change the culture and the laws around the issue. And, they argue that recently adopted state measures to fight the scourge are insufficient, despite being touted by Governor Andrew Cuomo as “the best in the nation.”</p> <p>The seven women of The Sexual Harassment Working Group -- all of whom have been personally affected by sexual harassment while working for lawmakers in the New York State Legislature -- have consulted a handful of advocacy and legal groups, and called upon their own experiences and expertise, to put together a detailed report with recommendations for ways to better protect women working in government.</p> <p>“We wonder why there aren’t women in higher office, we wonder why women are so underrepesented in our legislature and in all levels of our government. And this is a big part of why: It does not feel safe to work in government if you’re a woman,” co-author Eliyanna Kaiser, a one-time chief of staff to former Assemblymember Micah Kellner, said during an event in Manhattan on June 19. Kaiser was not herself directly a victim of sexual harassment, but instead reported to Bill Collins in the Assembly Counsel's office, under former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, that Kellner had been sending inappropriate messages to one of his staffers, which led to initial inaction, attacks against Kaiser, and, eventually, Kellner’s ouster from the state Legislature.</p> <p>Also on the panel were working group members and co-authors Danielle Bennett, former administrative assistant to Kellner who reported his harassment to Kaiser; Leah Hebert, former chief of staff to the late, disgraced Assemblymember Vito Lopez; Tori Burhans Kelly, former legislative aide to Lopez; Rita Pasarell, former legislative counsel and deputy chief of staff to Lopez; Erica Vladimer, former education policy analyst and counsel for the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC); and Elizabeth Crothers, former legislative aide in the New York State Assembly who publicly accused Assembly lawyer Michael Boxley of rape in 2003, two years after the alleged incident and when another victim of Boxley’s came forward. The discussion was moderated by political consultant and columnist Alexis Grenell, who has helped bring to light victims’ experiences as well as the insufficient responses from government officials.</p> <p>The stories of these women run together in a horror plot that involves countless obstacles to reporting, near-dismissal, and a reluctance to investigate from those in charge, as well as forcibly implemented nondisclosure agreements that hinder the complainant's chances of reemployment and their ability to warn others.</p> <p>“I agreed not to file a civil suit in exchange for [him to get] a HIV test,” Crothers said, adding the “loss of anonymity” after going public “follows you.”</p> <p>“I really didn’t think there was another way out aside from suicide,” said Hebert, who was one of the first women to complain about Lopez groping and harassing female staffers, of her experience.</p> <p>“These things that are happening are not the product of an individual harasser, they’re not mistakes,” Pasarell, another complainant against Lopez, added. “It’s massive, it’s systemic, and whenever I hear a new person coming out I say, ‘hey remember us, remember this happened to us in 2012?’”</p> <p>It’s a cycle that exploits women and protects men who behave abhorrently and, as Grenell pointed out, it’s a reality yet unchanged by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s <a href="https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2018/04/02/does-new-yorks-new-sexual-harassment-laws-go-far-enough/478703002/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">claims</a> that New York has the “strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation” following the recent budget, wherein the anti-harassment legislation was passed. Grenell compared the governor’s statement to the “mission accomplished sign” former President George W. Bush stood in front of during 2003 remarks about the war in Iraq, only two months after the U.S. first invaded.</p> <p>The Working Group is calling for Cuomo to hold public hearings to listen to victims of sexual harassment -- as its members demanded before the policies were decided by all-male leadership with little apparent regard for the opinions of victims. The group’s <a href="https://www.harassmentfreealbany.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Harassment-Free Albany</a> website states: “New York State has not held a state hearing on sexual harassment since Governor Mario Cuomo [Andrew Cuomo’s father] created a Sexual Harassment Task Force in 1992.”</p> <p>The reporting system has no transparency for complainants, limited uniformity, and an obvious lack of objectivity, the panel urges. For example, when Vladimer, who this January publicly accused now-Deputy Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein of kissing her forcibly and against her will outside a bar in 2015, was asked where her case is at now, she said she has no idea.</p> <p>“Your guess is as good as mine,” Vladimer told event attendees on Tuesday. “[It’s with] the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics [JCOPE], which under some very vague executive law somehow has the authority to investigate sexual harassment claims. There are no experts on this commission and the commissioners who vote to decide whether or not there is wrongdoing are all appointed by elected officials.” They are also <a href="https://www.jcope.ny.gov/commissioners" target="_blank" rel="noopener">almost all men</a>, with one woman in 14 commissioners.</p> <p>“I don’t know where my investigation is and I think that’s one of the biggest things we’ve talked about is that there is no transparency and I know, and have been told, I don’t have a right to know where my investigation’s going,” Vladimer added.</p> <p>When Vladimer went public, Klein immediately denied the allegations, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said the Senate would not investigate given no formal complaint had been lodged with its internal staff. Klein himself asked JCOPE to investigate, but other than Klein indicating an investigation had commenced, there is little information to go by.</p> <p>In the lead-up to the new state budget, Cuomo had called for sweeping anti-sexual harassment policies, including greater resources for and <a href="https://www.wivb.com/news/local-news/governor-cuomo-delivers-his-state-of-the-state-address/1083202760" target="_blank" rel="noopener">transparency</a> in JCOPE investigations. While Cuomo pushed through some measures, those JCOPE recommendations were not among what was passed into law.</p> <p>The same Klein accused of sexually harassing Vladimer was one of the three other elected men, and no elected women, who assisted Cuomo in deciding the sexual harassment legislation this March, ahead of the annual budget. According to the <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=S07507&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Committee&amp;nbspVotes=Y&amp;Floor&amp;nbspVotes=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y&amp;LFIN=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a>, there are five measures designed to address sexual harassment in state politics -- as the governor’s office puts it, to “further build upon his 2018 Women’s Agenda for New York.”</p> <p>In a press release announcing highlights of the new budget in March, Cuomo said, "We put into place the strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation, ending once and for all the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled this unacceptable behavior for far too long.”</p> <p>Under the new legislation, all employers working with the state, including vendors and contractors, must implement a written policy addressing sexual harassment prevention and provide prevention training to all employees. This is an extension of a previously-existing law to include contracted workers, and means that employers may now be held liable for the sexual harassment of non-employees if the employer knew, or should have known, of the harassment and failed to take action. It does not, however, address the ambiguity around employees of elected officials.</p> <p>The Sexual Harassment Working Group is recommending the definition of “employee” be changed to clearly include employees of elected and appointed officials, and that the New York State Human Rights Law should stipulate elected officials are also considered “employers.”</p> <p>“Our recommendation is to specify employees as everybody -- essentially someone for hire -- this is how the labor law defines it and we just want every worker to have the same protection, including staff of elected officials,” Pasarell told Tuesday night’s event.</p> <p>In the new legislation, New York employers are prohibited from requiring mandatory arbitration of claims of workplace sexual harassment, except where inconsistent with federal law, and this will come into effect in July.</p> <p>Any officers and employees of the state or any public entity who is subject to a final judgement of personal liability in cases of sexual harassment will have to reimburse the state for the award given to the complainant, however the Sexual Harassment Working Group points out this is only applicable for cases determined by a judge, not necessarily to those settled out of court.</p> <p>Cuomo’s legislation also states no employer has the authority to include or agree to include in any settlement a nondisclosure agreement, unless the condition of confidentiality is the complainant’s preference. And, notably, a model sexual harassment guidance document and a sexual harassment prevention policy is to be created with the Division of Human Right by October -- meaning a key portion of the new policy is not yet written.</p> <p>“This year, Governor Cuomo signed the strongest anti-sexual harassment policy in the country,” Dani Lever, press secretary for Cuomo, told Gotham Gazette in a statement. “It closed gaping loopholes that entrapped women in toxic workplaces, extended protections to contracted workers, and strengthened rules that prevent companies from shirking their responsibility to root out bad actors—instead of sweeping problems under-the-rug.”</p> <p>On the surface, all measures included in the<a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/press/2018/pr-enactfy19.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> enacted budget</a> appear to go a long way towards exactly what the governor is promising but, according to the panel of women who’ve experienced sexual harassment in state politics first-hand, there are some areas of ambiguity that impede the path to reporting and justice for potential victims.</p> <p>First, the budget hasn’t defined “sexual harassment” and the way the issue is currently treated under state law leaves much room for interpretation. The Sexual Harassment Working Group recommends adding “sex and gender” to the list of classes protected from discrimination in the New York State Constitution, to offer another level of protection for all New Yorkers, including victims. And the authors suggest the current standard for behavior to qualify as sexual harassment in state law -- that it must be “severe or pervasive” -- be changed to mirror the recent changes to New York City law, where the standard for discrimination and harassment reads simply that the person is treated “less well.”</p> <p>“When you’re talking about standards in law, the ‘litigative itch,’ as they call it, is all in these terms,” Kaiser said. “People are always going to bicker about the actual event that happened. We’d prefer that bickering to be asking, ‘didn’t he treat her less well?’ Rather than, ‘was it severe and pervasive?’”</p> <p>The working group is also calling for an independent body to oversee all discrimination harassment policy enforcement. At the moment, JCOPE members are appointed by state elected officials. Of the 14 members, three are appointed by the Temporary President of the Senate, three are appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly, one is appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate, one is appointed by the Minority Leader of the Assembly, and six are appointed by the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor.</p> <p>Many of the stories from the women in The Sexual Harassment Working Group involve some level of disbelief from those charged with investigating their reports of sexual harassment. In Crothers’ case, it wasn’t only disbelief, it was outright protection of her alleged attacker.</p> <p>“Before it came out in the press and when I met with the speaker [Sheldon Silver], I didn’t feel he didn’t believe me, he just said ‘well I won’t let him go out to bars anymore and my first priority is protecting the institution,’” Crothers said at the panel event. Silver resigned as speaker in 2015 after being arrested on federal corruption charges, and long after being accused of facilitating former Assemblymember Lopez’s harassment of eight women who were on his staff. The panelists believe this culture of cover-up and protection will continue unless there is an independent body appointed to investigate, and determine, reports of sexual misconduct in Albany.</p> <p>It’s the Lopez example that best shows the need for further restrictions around the use of nondisclosure agreements, beyond what is outlined in the new legislation. Two of the women in the working group, who were on the panel, ultimately signed nondisclosure agreements after accusing the former Assembly member of sexual harassment and groping. They said they didn’t want a nondisclosure agreement -- it wasn’t implemented to protect their privacy -- but it was offered to them as a ‘take it or leave it’ measure.</p> <p>“We wanted an investigation, we asked multiple times for an investigation,” Hebert said. Hebert’s name went public, despite her having signed a nondisclosure agreement, when reports from other victims were published by the media ahead of Lopez’s resignation in 2013. Instead of an investigation, Hebert said she, along with Pasarell, were made to sign nondisclosure agreements and were told Lopez would go through sexual harassment prevention training.</p> <p>“The NDA, it wasn’t just that...we couldn’t speak to anyone,” Hebert said. “It was, at first, $10,000 in liquidated damages if we broke it for every occurence, and it would happen with a mediator behind closed doors so no one would know they were enforcing the agreement. And it also contained a provision that we could never apply to the Assembly again.” This last measure effectively limiting their opportunities to work in state government, and the fine making it impossible for the complainants to explain their circumstances to future employers, file for unemployment benefits, or warn others or the Human Rights Division of Lopez’s behavior.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>They pushed back on their exclusion from the Assembly and the response was, “we could never apply to Lopez’s office again, which was fine, but they increased our liquidated damages cost to $20,000,” Hebert said.</p> <p>Pasarell, another of Lopez’s victims, said the anti-sexual harassment legislation in the budget regarding nondisclosure agreements -- that they can only be used in cases where the complainant consents -- can too easily be twisted to benefit the harasser.</p> <p>“The way they phrased the new law is for the complainant to have a nondisclosure agreement, it’s got to be the complainant’s preference. In our case we saw repeatedly how the Assembly portrayed it as if it was our preference when it absolutely was not,” she said. “The nondisclosure agreement came to us very late in the game and it was ‘take it or leave it.’”</p> <p>Women reporting sexual harassment will be better assisted, The Sexual Harassment Working Group argues, if the Legislature provides greater protection against victim coercion into signing nondisclosure agreements. The group also recommends the law allow for individual liability, so harassers can be targeted without taking the Legislature or State to arbitration or court. And, in cases where complainants do want a nondisclosure agreement for confidentiality reasons, there should be a “Sunshine in Litigation” law to prevent serial harassers (who’ve offended at least once prior) from re-offending. “Limited information would be shared but a pattern of harassment would be outed,” Pasarell said.</p> <p>The way to change the culture of sexual harassment and exploitation is through changing the law, The Sexual Harassment Working Group maintains, and the way to do that is through consulting with victims, advocacy groups, and others, including lawmakers -- a process much more extensive than how Cuomo and legislative leaders, all men, went about it.</p> <p>In response to The Sexual Harassment Working Group’s report, Cuomo’s team said it will review the recommendations but gave no indication of whether or not they will consider holding or pushing for a public hearing on the issue.</p> <p>“No woman should ever be violated, let alone in the workplace—period. And that’s why Governor Cuomo has championed measures that hold employers accountable for ensuring a hospitable workplace,” Lever, Cuomo’s press secretary, told Gotham Gazette. “The ‘Me Too’ movement has caused an awakening in our society, and while we’ve taken positive concrete steps in New York, we need to continue to see progress in our state and across the country. We look forward to reviewing these recommendations and continuing this important work.”</p> <p>

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Lopez allegedly harassed eight women on 33 counts, not 33 women; that two, not three, of the women mentioned signed NDAs; and that Kaiser reported Kellner's behavior to the Assembly counsel's office, not Speaker Silver directly.</p>
City Council Anti-Harassment Bills Don’t Apply to the City Council 2018-03-08T05:00:00+00:00 2018-03-08T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7527-city-council-anti-harassment-bills-don-t-apply-to-the-city-council Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/28340833019_9bbc3dc1b9_z.jpg" alt="Johnson City Council staff" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson and others (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Last week, the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7508-council-examines-city-sexual-harassment-policies-considers-new-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposed</a> a legislative package aimed at confronting sexual harassment in private and government work environments. It includes 11 bills, four of which would apply to city agencies should they become law. Council members sponsoring the bills, including Speaker Corey Johnson, touted the legislation as evidence of the Council taking significant action toward preventing and punishing the type of harassment that has become the focus of a national movement. But the bills do not apply to the City Council itself.</p> <p>“All New Yorkers are entitled to a safe, respectful workplace – and this starts with sending a strong message to employers that there is no place for sexualharassment in New York City,” Johnson said in a press release. “With more and more sexual harassment cases being brought to light, it has never been more important for the government to play a role in the movement to end sexual harassment and assault.”</p> <p>There was also some confusion among the bill-sponsoring Council members and in the speaker's office as to whether the bills applied to other non-mayoral government entities such as the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, or Borough Presidents. After this article was originally published, a Council spokesperson clarified that "The legislation as it is written will cover non-mayoral government entities, including the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, or Borough Presidents. The Council will be covered through a rule that will be drafted to ensure compliance."</p> <p>Speaker Johnson, along with Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Mark Levine, and Adrienne Adams, are the primary sponsors of the bills that add requirements to city agencies’ anti-sexual harassment policies and procedures. Johnson’s bill would mandate twice-annual sexual harassment training; Adams’ bill would instruct the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and Commission on Human Rights to partner in determining risk factors “associated with sexual harassment” in city agencies; Levine’s would mandate that city agencies collect and then report sexual harassment cases; and Rosenthal’s would direct the Commission on Human Rights to administer surveys that test “general awareness and knowledge of workplace sexual harassment policies and prevention.” &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>When originally asked about the omission of the Council and other non-mayoral entities in the legislation, a City Council spokesperson said that the Council is in the beginning stages of the legislative process, the bills may change, and that the Council will adhere to the laws they pass. There was no discussion of the Council’s own policies at the hourslong hearing on the bills held February 28 at City Hall.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Women, told Gotham Gazette that the process is in its early stages, insisted the Council would comply with the practices in the new laws, and said that many of the provisions in the bevy of bills are already the Council’s policy, such as the provisions included in Johnson’s bill. &nbsp;</p> <p>A spokesperson for Adrienne Adams also said the Council was early in its process and “intended to comply” with the legislation.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Mark Levine did not respond to requests for comment. Last year, Levine announced plans to introduce legislation that would designate Council staff complaints as the purview of the Council’s Standards and Ethics Committee, which currently only has oversight of elected Council members. The proposal has yet to make it into bill form.</p> <p>For the several hundred employees of the City Council, the body’s own harassment policies and procedures are not public and Gotham Gazette is still awaiting the results of a Freedom of Information Law request for information regarding how harassment complaints are handled and how the Council’s equal employment committee (EEC) functions.</p> <p>When it comes to handling complaints at the Council, sources indicate that there is a process for making and evaluating complaints through the EEC. Elected Council members themselves, are subject to the Committee on Standards and Ethics, made up of Council members, which evaluates complaints and can adjudicate punishment, as it recently did with Council Member Andy King, who was assigned additional training after a complaint of undue attention to a staff member was substantiated.</p> <p>The bills will likely be changed before they are voted through committee and then the full Council, but to what extent remains unclear.</p> <p>It was also unclear whether the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, and Borough Presidents were aware of their inclusion in the legislation. When asked about their exclusion, working from apparently incorrect initial responses from the Council, those offices sent the following replies.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Comptroller Scott Stringer declined to comment regarding the Council leaving itself out of the legislation, but provided Gotham Gazette with the office’s policies and procedures on sexual misconduct. &nbsp;</p> <p>A spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>In a statement, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said,&nbsp;"We have a standing EEO policy and trainings are conducted annually in coordination with DCAS. Even though the agency is not required to do so, Brooklyn Borough Hall implements the same anti-sexual harassment training that is applied in mayoral agencies. I will continue to apply the highest City standard for combating sexual harassment in the workplace, and I appreciate the City Council taking up this important issue.”</p> <p>A&nbsp;spokesperson for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. told Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;"Our office has a comprehensive sexual harassment policy that reflects the policies published by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services on the issue."</p> <p>A spokesperson for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said they had to review the legislation before commenting and that the office has existing policies in place for sexual harassment.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer declined to comment on the legislation.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Staten Island Borough President James Oddo also declined to comment on the legislation, but told Gotham Gazette the Borough President’s office follows the procedures used by city agencies and has both a male and female Citywide Diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) officer.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, told Gotham Gazette that the omission of the City Council is part of a “pervasive disease of legislators.” “They like to prescribe vaccinations for everybody else but themselves,” she continued. “I have no idea what the motive is.”</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: this story has been updated in several places based on new information provided by the City Council after the story was originally published.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/28340833019_9bbc3dc1b9_z.jpg" alt="Johnson City Council staff" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson and others (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Last week, the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7508-council-examines-city-sexual-harassment-policies-considers-new-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposed</a> a legislative package aimed at confronting sexual harassment in private and government work environments. It includes 11 bills, four of which would apply to city agencies should they become law. Council members sponsoring the bills, including Speaker Corey Johnson, touted the legislation as evidence of the Council taking significant action toward preventing and punishing the type of harassment that has become the focus of a national movement. But the bills do not apply to the City Council itself.</p> <p>“All New Yorkers are entitled to a safe, respectful workplace – and this starts with sending a strong message to employers that there is no place for sexualharassment in New York City,” Johnson said in a press release. “With more and more sexual harassment cases being brought to light, it has never been more important for the government to play a role in the movement to end sexual harassment and assault.”</p> <p>There was also some confusion among the bill-sponsoring Council members and in the speaker's office as to whether the bills applied to other non-mayoral government entities such as the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, or Borough Presidents. After this article was originally published, a Council spokesperson clarified that "The legislation as it is written will cover non-mayoral government entities, including the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, or Borough Presidents. The Council will be covered through a rule that will be drafted to ensure compliance."</p> <p>Speaker Johnson, along with Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Mark Levine, and Adrienne Adams, are the primary sponsors of the bills that add requirements to city agencies’ anti-sexual harassment policies and procedures. Johnson’s bill would mandate twice-annual sexual harassment training; Adams’ bill would instruct the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and Commission on Human Rights to partner in determining risk factors “associated with sexual harassment” in city agencies; Levine’s would mandate that city agencies collect and then report sexual harassment cases; and Rosenthal’s would direct the Commission on Human Rights to administer surveys that test “general awareness and knowledge of workplace sexual harassment policies and prevention.” &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>When originally asked about the omission of the Council and other non-mayoral entities in the legislation, a City Council spokesperson said that the Council is in the beginning stages of the legislative process, the bills may change, and that the Council will adhere to the laws they pass. There was no discussion of the Council’s own policies at the hourslong hearing on the bills held February 28 at City Hall.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Women, told Gotham Gazette that the process is in its early stages, insisted the Council would comply with the practices in the new laws, and said that many of the provisions in the bevy of bills are already the Council’s policy, such as the provisions included in Johnson’s bill. &nbsp;</p> <p>A spokesperson for Adrienne Adams also said the Council was early in its process and “intended to comply” with the legislation.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Mark Levine did not respond to requests for comment. Last year, Levine announced plans to introduce legislation that would designate Council staff complaints as the purview of the Council’s Standards and Ethics Committee, which currently only has oversight of elected Council members. The proposal has yet to make it into bill form.</p> <p>For the several hundred employees of the City Council, the body’s own harassment policies and procedures are not public and Gotham Gazette is still awaiting the results of a Freedom of Information Law request for information regarding how harassment complaints are handled and how the Council’s equal employment committee (EEC) functions.</p> <p>When it comes to handling complaints at the Council, sources indicate that there is a process for making and evaluating complaints through the EEC. Elected Council members themselves, are subject to the Committee on Standards and Ethics, made up of Council members, which evaluates complaints and can adjudicate punishment, as it recently did with Council Member Andy King, who was assigned additional training after a complaint of undue attention to a staff member was substantiated.</p> <p>The bills will likely be changed before they are voted through committee and then the full Council, but to what extent remains unclear.</p> <p>It was also unclear whether the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, and Borough Presidents were aware of their inclusion in the legislation. When asked about their exclusion, working from apparently incorrect initial responses from the Council, those offices sent the following replies.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Comptroller Scott Stringer declined to comment regarding the Council leaving itself out of the legislation, but provided Gotham Gazette with the office’s policies and procedures on sexual misconduct. &nbsp;</p> <p>A spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>In a statement, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said,&nbsp;"We have a standing EEO policy and trainings are conducted annually in coordination with DCAS. Even though the agency is not required to do so, Brooklyn Borough Hall implements the same anti-sexual harassment training that is applied in mayoral agencies. I will continue to apply the highest City standard for combating sexual harassment in the workplace, and I appreciate the City Council taking up this important issue.”</p> <p>A&nbsp;spokesperson for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. told Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;"Our office has a comprehensive sexual harassment policy that reflects the policies published by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services on the issue."</p> <p>A spokesperson for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said they had to review the legislation before commenting and that the office has existing policies in place for sexual harassment.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer declined to comment on the legislation.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Staten Island Borough President James Oddo also declined to comment on the legislation, but told Gotham Gazette the Borough President’s office follows the procedures used by city agencies and has both a male and female Citywide Diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) officer.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, told Gotham Gazette that the omission of the City Council is part of a “pervasive disease of legislators.” “They like to prescribe vaccinations for everybody else but themselves,” she continued. “I have no idea what the motive is.”</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: this story has been updated in several places based on new information provided by the City Council after the story was originally published.</p> The Women In ‘The Room’ 2018-03-05T05:00:00+00:00 2018-03-05T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7518-the-women-in-the-room Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/25090679785_60aee29d23_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Stewart-Cousins" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo and Sen. Stewart-Cousins (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>What would New York State’s budget look like if women were in charge? That is this year’s $168-billion question.</p> <p>For decades, the final details and compromises in New York’s annual budget have been decided by the so-called “three men in the room,” or the leaders of the two legislative houses and the governor, but with workplace sexual harassment at the forefront this year, it seems that at least one woman will be included in parts of the closed-door talks.</p> <p>The “three men” -- in recent years four men: Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Senator Jeff Klein, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie -- is a term <a href="https://governmentreform.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/three-men-in-a-room-and-albany-where-did-the-phrase-come-from/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">first attributed</a> to Albany’s budget process in a 1988 Newsday article and later popularized by former state lawmaker Seymour Lachman, who wrote a book called “Three Men in a Room.” The phrase has become synonymous with Albany’s culture of secrecy and backroom dealings, but it also implicates the gender imbalance that has long plagued the center of power in New York.</p> <p>Now, amid a national reckoning around sexual misconduct, an effort is being made to elevate female voices <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7286-amid-larger-moment-will-albany-face-another-sexual-misconduct-reckoning" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in state government</a> as the executive and legislative branches scramble to come up with an acceptable policy response. In addition to workplace protections, Cuomo’s extensive <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy19/exec/fy19artVIIs/WAArticleVII.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">women’s rights agenda</a> includes codification of Roe v. Wade abortion protections, legislation combating revenge porn, and a mandate that free feminine hygiene products to be provided in public school restrooms.</p> <p>Facing <a href="https://www.lohud.com/story/opinion/readers/2015/03/16/let-stewart-cousins-join-budget-talks/24842609/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">pressure</a> from advocates, editorial boards, and others to include female representation during final negotiations of a new budget -- which is expected to include a statewide anti-harassment policy for government officials -- Cuomo recently announced that the only female legislative conference leader, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, will for the first time play a role in deciding the legislation that goes into the final budget documents.</p> <p>“Leader Stewart-Cousins will be included in negotiations on the ‎sexual-harassment bill, as well as a wide range of other issues being dealt with in this year’s budget,” a Cuomo spokesperson <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-female-legislator-will-join-all-male-group-developing-sex-harassment-policy-1518744022" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the Wall Street Journal</a>.</p> <p>Notably, the negotiations will occur as Klein is being investigated for allegedly forcing a kiss with an aide in 2015.</p> <p>While it is not clear what that range of other issues will cover, Stewart-Cousins -- who has long demanded inclusion in budget talks, to no avail -- said at a press conference on the Child Victims Act (CVA), that she will use the opportunity to fight for other bills put forward by her conference that have long stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p>“When I’m in the room, you can be sure that I will be advocating for this, and other things that our conference is carrying and pushing forward,” Stewart-Cousins said of CVA, adding that by representing the 21-member conference (in the 63-seat chamber), she brings with her “the voices of half of New York.”</p> <p>The Child’s Victims Act, which has been in limbo for 10 years, lifts New York’s statute of limitations to match that of other states, making it easier for victims of child sexual abuse to bring charges against their abusers. Other big ticket items on the table this year -- many of them carried by members of the Democratic conference -- include gun control, early voting, a state tax overhaul, and criminal justice reforms.</p> <p>How Stewart-Cousins’ presence in “the room,” typically the governor’s office on the second floor of the state Capitol, shapes the final budget bills, or whether more women-centered legislation and other bills carried by her conference will rise to the top, remains to be seen. While her involvement in leaders’ meetings is a notable start, as one of five powerbrokers in “the room,” there will still be a lopsided ratio considering New York’s female-heavy electorate, according to Dina Refki, executive director of the Center for Women in Government &amp; Civil Society at Albany University.</p> <p>“Research tells us that when women are outnumbered, their voices tend to be silenced,” said Refki. “Of course, Andrea Stewart-Cousins is a strong legislator, and it’s a good thing to have, but if we are looking at research, we tend to believe that women need to be represented in sufficient numbers to have a meaningful impact on the process.”</p> <p>Government reformers note that the power in the room is already tilted in favor of the executive, due to the 2004 Silver v. Pataki Court of Appeals decision, which bars the Legislature from making changes to any part of an appropriations bill, short of rejecting the entire bill. The main leverage the legislative leaders have during talks is the ability to delay the budget, which is bound to draw criticism of Albany’s dysfunction from the public and editorial boards, according to former Assemblymember-turned-professor Richard Brodsky.</p> <p>“You cannot govern a state in perpetuity based upon a tyrannical executive power -- and that’s what we have. If you want to reform government, adjust the balance of power,” said Brodsky.</p> <p>Tyrannical power or not, having the governor’s ear during those final hours is valuable and if political science studies are any indicator, Stewart-Cousins’ involvement may help tip the scales in favor of better legislative outcomes for women. There is a large body of data indicating that female representation in government leads to the passage of more legislation on issues of concern to women -- whether protections for women’s health, workplace equity, or paid family leave, for example -- but only when there is a “critical mass” of female representation. Political scientists disagree on the exact tipping point, pegging it at 15, 20, 25, or 30 percent.</p> <p>While the final decision-makers in Albany have historically all been male, there are often women in the room in a supportive or advisory capacity, and numerous female lawmakers who lead legislative committees are heavily involved in budgetary proceedings. At every stage there is an opportunity to women influence the content and the shape of the budget, according to Refki.</p> <p>“Women are not monolithic. They don’t all think the same, or act in the same way, but by virtue of their socialization as women, they tend to see women-centered issues as priorities,” she said. “The presence of women at each juncture in the process at least brings a voice that could influence what takes shape at the end.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/38739897775_c2486d2a69_z_1.jpg" alt="Melissa DeRosa Cuomo aide" width="300" height="200" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />Melissa DeRosa, now Cuomo’s top aide as secretary to the governor, has long been involved in budget conversations, including in her previous role as Cuomo’s chief of staff. DeRosa and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul both chair Cuomo’s newly-created Council on Women and Girls, which helped develop his women’s agenda this year, a spokesperson from Cuomo’s office said.</p> <p>Hochul, while not directly involved in budget negotiations, aids the process by promoting key pieces of the governor's budget agenda around the state. When interviewed about Hochul’s reelection campaign last month, her chief of staff told Gotham Gazette that she is “focused on ensuring an on-time budget.”</p> <p>Cuomo has brought a number of women into his inner circle in the past year, including re-hiring former federal prosecutor Linda Lacewell, now as his chief of staff, and Cathy Calhoun as his director of state operations. Lacewell replaced DeRosa (pictured), who was promoted to Cuomo’s top advisory position last year, becoming the first woman to hold the position.</p> <p>Legislative leaders also have top female aides. Often accompanying Heastie during budget dealings are Louann Ciccone, secretary of program and counsel, and Kathleen O’Keefe, his legislative counsel. To help create policy responses to sexual harassment issues, Heastie has composed a work group of 15 lawmakers, 10 of them female.</p> <p>“Sexual harassment must be confronted head-on,” said Heastie in a statement. “I look forward to the recommendations of this workgroup so that we can develop a statewide legislative solution to this very serious problem.”</p> <p>Klein, whose Independent Democratic Conference forms a ruling coalition with the Senate Republicans, also has a female chief of staff, Dana Carotenuto Rico, who typically joins him in “the room.” Other times, IDC members who have expertise in a particular subject are called in, an IDC spokesperson said. For example, in 2017, Senator Diane Savino and Senator Jesse Hamilton were invited into the governor’s chamber to discuss details of legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility.</p> <p>Additionally, women play a role at many turns in budgetary proceedings leading up to the final negotiations. The Legislature’s joint budget hearings, which take place in February, are now headed by female lawmakers, and when one-house agendas are released, female staffers from legislative and executive offices participate in subsequent meetings on various budgetary categories called “tables.”</p> <p>Two women now hold the Legislature’s most powerful committee chair posts: Senate Finance Chair Kathy Young, an upstate Republican, and Assembly Ways and Means Chair Helene Weinstein, a Brooklyn Democrat. The two women, along with IDC’s Senator Savino, of Staten Island, is vice chair of the Senate finance committee, must attend all of legislative budget hearings, which sometimes run late into the night. These hearings help inform one-house budget proposals, conference discussions, and larger budget negotiations, according to those with knowledge of the budget process.</p> <p>Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Flanagan, said that Young is extensively involved in negotiations on the state budget and that other female staff members advise the leader on key issues related to the budget, like sexual harassment, criminal justice, and education. Reif did not indicate that any of the women are in the negotiating room when the final budget bills are decided.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/25090679785_60aee29d23_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Stewart-Cousins" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo and Sen. Stewart-Cousins (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>What would New York State’s budget look like if women were in charge? That is this year’s $168-billion question.</p> <p>For decades, the final details and compromises in New York’s annual budget have been decided by the so-called “three men in the room,” or the leaders of the two legislative houses and the governor, but with workplace sexual harassment at the forefront this year, it seems that at least one woman will be included in parts of the closed-door talks.</p> <p>The “three men” -- in recent years four men: Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Senator Jeff Klein, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie -- is a term <a href="https://governmentreform.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/three-men-in-a-room-and-albany-where-did-the-phrase-come-from/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">first attributed</a> to Albany’s budget process in a 1988 Newsday article and later popularized by former state lawmaker Seymour Lachman, who wrote a book called “Three Men in a Room.” The phrase has become synonymous with Albany’s culture of secrecy and backroom dealings, but it also implicates the gender imbalance that has long plagued the center of power in New York.</p> <p>Now, amid a national reckoning around sexual misconduct, an effort is being made to elevate female voices <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7286-amid-larger-moment-will-albany-face-another-sexual-misconduct-reckoning" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in state government</a> as the executive and legislative branches scramble to come up with an acceptable policy response. In addition to workplace protections, Cuomo’s extensive <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy19/exec/fy19artVIIs/WAArticleVII.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">women’s rights agenda</a> includes codification of Roe v. Wade abortion protections, legislation combating revenge porn, and a mandate that free feminine hygiene products to be provided in public school restrooms.</p> <p>Facing <a href="https://www.lohud.com/story/opinion/readers/2015/03/16/let-stewart-cousins-join-budget-talks/24842609/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">pressure</a> from advocates, editorial boards, and others to include female representation during final negotiations of a new budget -- which is expected to include a statewide anti-harassment policy for government officials -- Cuomo recently announced that the only female legislative conference leader, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, will for the first time play a role in deciding the legislation that goes into the final budget documents.</p> <p>“Leader Stewart-Cousins will be included in negotiations on the ‎sexual-harassment bill, as well as a wide range of other issues being dealt with in this year’s budget,” a Cuomo spokesperson <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-female-legislator-will-join-all-male-group-developing-sex-harassment-policy-1518744022" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the Wall Street Journal</a>.</p> <p>Notably, the negotiations will occur as Klein is being investigated for allegedly forcing a kiss with an aide in 2015.</p> <p>While it is not clear what that range of other issues will cover, Stewart-Cousins -- who has long demanded inclusion in budget talks, to no avail -- said at a press conference on the Child Victims Act (CVA), that she will use the opportunity to fight for other bills put forward by her conference that have long stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p>“When I’m in the room, you can be sure that I will be advocating for this, and other things that our conference is carrying and pushing forward,” Stewart-Cousins said of CVA, adding that by representing the 21-member conference (in the 63-seat chamber), she brings with her “the voices of half of New York.”</p> <p>The Child’s Victims Act, which has been in limbo for 10 years, lifts New York’s statute of limitations to match that of other states, making it easier for victims of child sexual abuse to bring charges against their abusers. Other big ticket items on the table this year -- many of them carried by members of the Democratic conference -- include gun control, early voting, a state tax overhaul, and criminal justice reforms.</p> <p>How Stewart-Cousins’ presence in “the room,” typically the governor’s office on the second floor of the state Capitol, shapes the final budget bills, or whether more women-centered legislation and other bills carried by her conference will rise to the top, remains to be seen. While her involvement in leaders’ meetings is a notable start, as one of five powerbrokers in “the room,” there will still be a lopsided ratio considering New York’s female-heavy electorate, according to Dina Refki, executive director of the Center for Women in Government &amp; Civil Society at Albany University.</p> <p>“Research tells us that when women are outnumbered, their voices tend to be silenced,” said Refki. “Of course, Andrea Stewart-Cousins is a strong legislator, and it’s a good thing to have, but if we are looking at research, we tend to believe that women need to be represented in sufficient numbers to have a meaningful impact on the process.”</p> <p>Government reformers note that the power in the room is already tilted in favor of the executive, due to the 2004 Silver v. Pataki Court of Appeals decision, which bars the Legislature from making changes to any part of an appropriations bill, short of rejecting the entire bill. The main leverage the legislative leaders have during talks is the ability to delay the budget, which is bound to draw criticism of Albany’s dysfunction from the public and editorial boards, according to former Assemblymember-turned-professor Richard Brodsky.</p> <p>“You cannot govern a state in perpetuity based upon a tyrannical executive power -- and that’s what we have. If you want to reform government, adjust the balance of power,” said Brodsky.</p> <p>Tyrannical power or not, having the governor’s ear during those final hours is valuable and if political science studies are any indicator, Stewart-Cousins’ involvement may help tip the scales in favor of better legislative outcomes for women. There is a large body of data indicating that female representation in government leads to the passage of more legislation on issues of concern to women -- whether protections for women’s health, workplace equity, or paid family leave, for example -- but only when there is a “critical mass” of female representation. Political scientists disagree on the exact tipping point, pegging it at 15, 20, 25, or 30 percent.</p> <p>While the final decision-makers in Albany have historically all been male, there are often women in the room in a supportive or advisory capacity, and numerous female lawmakers who lead legislative committees are heavily involved in budgetary proceedings. At every stage there is an opportunity to women influence the content and the shape of the budget, according to Refki.</p> <p>“Women are not monolithic. They don’t all think the same, or act in the same way, but by virtue of their socialization as women, they tend to see women-centered issues as priorities,” she said. “The presence of women at each juncture in the process at least brings a voice that could influence what takes shape at the end.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/38739897775_c2486d2a69_z_1.jpg" alt="Melissa DeRosa Cuomo aide" width="300" height="200" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />Melissa DeRosa, now Cuomo’s top aide as secretary to the governor, has long been involved in budget conversations, including in her previous role as Cuomo’s chief of staff. DeRosa and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul both chair Cuomo’s newly-created Council on Women and Girls, which helped develop his women’s agenda this year, a spokesperson from Cuomo’s office said.</p> <p>Hochul, while not directly involved in budget negotiations, aids the process by promoting key pieces of the governor's budget agenda around the state. When interviewed about Hochul’s reelection campaign last month, her chief of staff told Gotham Gazette that she is “focused on ensuring an on-time budget.”</p> <p>Cuomo has brought a number of women into his inner circle in the past year, including re-hiring former federal prosecutor Linda Lacewell, now as his chief of staff, and Cathy Calhoun as his director of state operations. Lacewell replaced DeRosa (pictured), who was promoted to Cuomo’s top advisory position last year, becoming the first woman to hold the position.</p> <p>Legislative leaders also have top female aides. Often accompanying Heastie during budget dealings are Louann Ciccone, secretary of program and counsel, and Kathleen O’Keefe, his legislative counsel. To help create policy responses to sexual harassment issues, Heastie has composed a work group of 15 lawmakers, 10 of them female.</p> <p>“Sexual harassment must be confronted head-on,” said Heastie in a statement. “I look forward to the recommendations of this workgroup so that we can develop a statewide legislative solution to this very serious problem.”</p> <p>Klein, whose Independent Democratic Conference forms a ruling coalition with the Senate Republicans, also has a female chief of staff, Dana Carotenuto Rico, who typically joins him in “the room.” Other times, IDC members who have expertise in a particular subject are called in, an IDC spokesperson said. For example, in 2017, Senator Diane Savino and Senator Jesse Hamilton were invited into the governor’s chamber to discuss details of legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility.</p> <p>Additionally, women play a role at many turns in budgetary proceedings leading up to the final negotiations. The Legislature’s joint budget hearings, which take place in February, are now headed by female lawmakers, and when one-house agendas are released, female staffers from legislative and executive offices participate in subsequent meetings on various budgetary categories called “tables.”</p> <p>Two women now hold the Legislature’s most powerful committee chair posts: Senate Finance Chair Kathy Young, an upstate Republican, and Assembly Ways and Means Chair Helene Weinstein, a Brooklyn Democrat. The two women, along with IDC’s Senator Savino, of Staten Island, is vice chair of the Senate finance committee, must attend all of legislative budget hearings, which sometimes run late into the night. These hearings help inform one-house budget proposals, conference discussions, and larger budget negotiations, according to those with knowledge of the budget process.</p> <p>Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Flanagan, said that Young is extensively involved in negotiations on the state budget and that other female staff members advise the leader on key issues related to the budget, like sexual harassment, criminal justice, and education. Reif did not indicate that any of the women are in the negotiating room when the final budget bills are decided.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Examines Sexual Harassment Policies, Considers New Laws 2018-02-28T23:15:00+00:00 2018-02-28T23:15:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7508-council-examines-city-sexual-harassment-policies-considers-new-laws Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rosenthal_in_red_presser.jpg" alt="Helen Rosenthal women" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Rosenthal and others (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>As the nation grapples with how to confront sexual misconduct, the New York City Council is addressing the issue in its oversight and legislative capacities. On Wednesday, Council members held a press conference and subsequent hearing on “best practices” for preventing sexual harassment, identifying current city government protocols, and considering a slate of new legislation.</p> <p>The 45-minute press conference outside City Hall featured about a dozen Council members, along with advocates, promoting the action being taken by the Council. It was led by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Committee on Women and ran the hearing that was held jointly with the Committee on Civil and Human Rights. During the hearing, members formally introduced the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act, a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=594183&amp;GUID=5D8E7BCC-6A45-4CC3-848B-6BF088412832&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">package</a> of 11 bills aimed at preventing and punishing sexual harassment in much of city government and the private sector.</p> <p>“Countless women and men have raised their voices and built the #MeToo movement,” Rosenthal said at the press conference. “The courage and the grace of these survivors has made a reckoning inevitable, not just for the powerful individuals finally brought to account, but for our society as a whole. We owe them a great deal of gratitude--and more to the point, we owe them action.”</p> <p>“Because although we have strong sexual harassment protections on the books,” she said, “we know that reality has not caught up with the law. Harassers are still too often able to operate with impunity.”</p> <p>Among the Council proposals is a bill requiring city agencies to administer <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354915&amp;GUID=7A944D7E-BD65-490F-96BE-DCC3CFDBFA46&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">anti-sexual harassment training</a> twice per year. The lead sponsor of the bill is Council Speaker Corey Johnson. Another bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354934&amp;GUID=A8E7F66B-F56A-44E6-8C9C-4FFB28FD518D&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">introduced</a> by Council Member Mark Levine, would require the dozens of city agencies to produce a yearly report of sexual harassment incidents. Additionally, Rosenthal introduced a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354946&amp;GUID=E08BA5B5-66FB-4528-9207-E8EEA2617D9E&amp;Options=&amp;Search=">bill</a> mandating that the city’s Commission on Human Rights distribute a “climate survey” to city agencies to “assess the general awareness and knowledge of workplace sexual harassment policies and prevention” in them, according to the bill’s summary.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In a similar vein, Council Member Adrienne Adams proposed a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354916&amp;GUID=DAE201C7-E082-47C8-9C7F-3CA16D20FA7C&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bill</a> requiring the Commission on Human Rights to join forces with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to deliver an “assessment of risk factors associated with sexual harassment within city agencies” to the mayor and speaker. Notably, this assortment of legislation applies only to mayoral agencies, including the mayor’s office, but not the City Council itself, according to a spokesperson for Rosenthal. The bills do not apply to the Borough Presidents’ offices, the Comptroller’s office, the Public Advocate’s office, or other non-mayoral government entities, either.</p> <p>At Wednesday’s hearing, representatives from DCAS presented a new citywide employee handbook that outlines guidance for many examples of inappropriate workplace behavior and what to do when an employee feels harassed.</p> <p>Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer submitted <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354947&amp;GUID=01F0E0BD-E33C-4842-A39B-A486437DD780&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legislation</a> that would require businesses contracting with the city to include sexual harassment policies and procedures in their division of labor services employment reports.</p> <p>The array of proposals also addresses private businesses throughout the city. For example, Council Member Laurie Combo and Public Advocate Letitia James put forward <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354925&amp;GUID=D9986F4A-C3A9-4299-BAA8-5A1B1A1AD31E&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legislation</a> requiring businesses with more than 14 employees to conduct sexual harassment prevention training. Along similar lines, Council Member Keith Powers’ <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354940&amp;GUID=EE51AA28-8FAA-41FE-B063-BE965FAED119&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bill</a> on the matter would amend the city’s Human Rights Law related to sexual harassment to apply to businesses employing any number of people, rather than the current threshold of businesses with more than four employees.</p> <p>Council Member Robert Cornegy, for his part, introduced a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354924&amp;GUID=CF950C5F-988C-417F-A720-53451ADA064B&amp;Options=&amp;Search=">bill</a> that would mandate that employers inform workers of their rights vis-à-vis sexual harassment with an office poster and a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354920&amp;GUID=4C0C09CB-DEA8-445E-A8D1-DDF6E08AB6A3&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bill</a> introduced by Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel would direct the Commission on Human Rights to provide resources regarding sexual harassment on its website.</p> <p>Council Member Carlina Rivera has <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354939&amp;GUID=82533FCE-573B-4294-B35E-D72F3963D9DE&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legislation</a> classifying sexual harassment as a form of discrimination under the city’s Human Rights Law. In an interview prior to the hearing, Rivera explained the goals of the effort. “What we’re looking for is clearly to show everyone that as a city we’re going to set the model for others, whether it’s the public or private sector,” she said. “What we’re looking for are best practices.”</p> <p>The Council wants to ensure “every workplace is free from sexual harassment,” Rivera added.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“When it comes to private businesses,” Rivera said, “one of the things that is incredibly challenging is transparency.” The legislation pertaining to private businesses, Rivera said, needed to not just be symbolic, but must clearly codify what is and is not acceptable workplace conduct.</p> <p>“We’re doing this to open that door for all to come forward and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening to me in my own business,” she continued, “and we’re going to be able to challenge them on their own set of practices in terms of protecting their employees.”</p> <p>Former City Comptroller and Congressional Representative Liz Holtzman, who participated in both the press conference and hearing, echoed Council Member Rosenthal. She noted that though there have been previous efforts to address seuxual harassment, not enough has been done to follow through once the problem had been identified.</p> <p>The Council bills may be amended before either another hearing to discuss them or committee votes to move them through. Bills passed by committee are then voted on by the full 51-member City Council. Mayor Bill de Blasio would then be asked to sign any bills passed by the overwhelmingly Democratic Council. The Democratic mayor has indicated he is supportive of taking new legislative action on this front, and representatives of his administration appeared supportive of the Council’s proposals at the Wednesday hearing.</p> <p>Public Advocate James contended that as high-profile instances of sexual harassment make headlines, it is also a common occurrence in daily life of too many everyday New Yorkers. “We all have our own individual, personal Harvey Weinstein’s that we know,” she said.</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rosenthal_in_red_presser.jpg" alt="Helen Rosenthal women" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Rosenthal and others (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>As the nation grapples with how to confront sexual misconduct, the New York City Council is addressing the issue in its oversight and legislative capacities. On Wednesday, Council members held a press conference and subsequent hearing on “best practices” for preventing sexual harassment, identifying current city government protocols, and considering a slate of new legislation.</p> <p>The 45-minute press conference outside City Hall featured about a dozen Council members, along with advocates, promoting the action being taken by the Council. It was led by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Committee on Women and ran the hearing that was held jointly with the Committee on Civil and Human Rights. During the hearing, members formally introduced the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act, a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=594183&amp;GUID=5D8E7BCC-6A45-4CC3-848B-6BF088412832&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">package</a> of 11 bills aimed at preventing and punishing sexual harassment in much of city government and the private sector.</p> <p>“Countless women and men have raised their voices and built the #MeToo movement,” Rosenthal said at the press conference. “The courage and the grace of these survivors has made a reckoning inevitable, not just for the powerful individuals finally brought to account, but for our society as a whole. We owe them a great deal of gratitude--and more to the point, we owe them action.”</p> <p>“Because although we have strong sexual harassment protections on the books,” she said, “we know that reality has not caught up with the law. Harassers are still too often able to operate with impunity.”</p> <p>Among the Council proposals is a bill requiring city agencies to administer <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354915&amp;GUID=7A944D7E-BD65-490F-96BE-DCC3CFDBFA46&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">anti-sexual harassment training</a> twice per year. The lead sponsor of the bill is Council Speaker Corey Johnson. Another bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354934&amp;GUID=A8E7F66B-F56A-44E6-8C9C-4FFB28FD518D&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">introduced</a> by Council Member Mark Levine, would require the dozens of city agencies to produce a yearly report of sexual harassment incidents. Additionally, Rosenthal introduced a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354946&amp;GUID=E08BA5B5-66FB-4528-9207-E8EEA2617D9E&amp;Options=&amp;Search=">bill</a> mandating that the city’s Commission on Human Rights distribute a “climate survey” to city agencies to “assess the general awareness and knowledge of workplace sexual harassment policies and prevention” in them, according to the bill’s summary.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In a similar vein, Council Member Adrienne Adams proposed a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354916&amp;GUID=DAE201C7-E082-47C8-9C7F-3CA16D20FA7C&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bill</a> requiring the Commission on Human Rights to join forces with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to deliver an “assessment of risk factors associated with sexual harassment within city agencies” to the mayor and speaker. Notably, this assortment of legislation applies only to mayoral agencies, including the mayor’s office, but not the City Council itself, according to a spokesperson for Rosenthal. The bills do not apply to the Borough Presidents’ offices, the Comptroller’s office, the Public Advocate’s office, or other non-mayoral government entities, either.</p> <p>At Wednesday’s hearing, representatives from DCAS presented a new citywide employee handbook that outlines guidance for many examples of inappropriate workplace behavior and what to do when an employee feels harassed.</p> <p>Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer submitted <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354947&amp;GUID=01F0E0BD-E33C-4842-A39B-A486437DD780&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legislation</a> that would require businesses contracting with the city to include sexual harassment policies and procedures in their division of labor services employment reports.</p> <p>The array of proposals also addresses private businesses throughout the city. For example, Council Member Laurie Combo and Public Advocate Letitia James put forward <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354925&amp;GUID=D9986F4A-C3A9-4299-BAA8-5A1B1A1AD31E&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legislation</a> requiring businesses with more than 14 employees to conduct sexual harassment prevention training. Along similar lines, Council Member Keith Powers’ <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354940&amp;GUID=EE51AA28-8FAA-41FE-B063-BE965FAED119&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bill</a> on the matter would amend the city’s Human Rights Law related to sexual harassment to apply to businesses employing any number of people, rather than the current threshold of businesses with more than four employees.</p> <p>Council Member Robert Cornegy, for his part, introduced a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354924&amp;GUID=CF950C5F-988C-417F-A720-53451ADA064B&amp;Options=&amp;Search=">bill</a> that would mandate that employers inform workers of their rights vis-à-vis sexual harassment with an office poster and a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354920&amp;GUID=4C0C09CB-DEA8-445E-A8D1-DDF6E08AB6A3&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bill</a> introduced by Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel would direct the Commission on Human Rights to provide resources regarding sexual harassment on its website.</p> <p>Council Member Carlina Rivera has <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3354939&amp;GUID=82533FCE-573B-4294-B35E-D72F3963D9DE&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legislation</a> classifying sexual harassment as a form of discrimination under the city’s Human Rights Law. In an interview prior to the hearing, Rivera explained the goals of the effort. “What we’re looking for is clearly to show everyone that as a city we’re going to set the model for others, whether it’s the public or private sector,” she said. “What we’re looking for are best practices.”</p> <p>The Council wants to ensure “every workplace is free from sexual harassment,” Rivera added.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“When it comes to private businesses,” Rivera said, “one of the things that is incredibly challenging is transparency.” The legislation pertaining to private businesses, Rivera said, needed to not just be symbolic, but must clearly codify what is and is not acceptable workplace conduct.</p> <p>“We’re doing this to open that door for all to come forward and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening to me in my own business,” she continued, “and we’re going to be able to challenge them on their own set of practices in terms of protecting their employees.”</p> <p>Former City Comptroller and Congressional Representative Liz Holtzman, who participated in both the press conference and hearing, echoed Council Member Rosenthal. She noted that though there have been previous efforts to address seuxual harassment, not enough has been done to follow through once the problem had been identified.</p> <p>The Council bills may be amended before either another hearing to discuss them or committee votes to move them through. Bills passed by committee are then voted on by the full 51-member City Council. Mayor Bill de Blasio would then be asked to sign any bills passed by the overwhelmingly Democratic Council. The Democratic mayor has indicated he is supportive of taking new legislative action on this front, and representatives of his administration appeared supportive of the Council’s proposals at the Wednesday hearing.</p> <p>Public Advocate James contended that as high-profile instances of sexual harassment make headlines, it is also a common occurrence in daily life of too many everyday New Yorkers. “We all have our own individual, personal Harvey Weinstein’s that we know,” she said.</p> <p> </p> City Council To Examine Government Sexual Harassment Policies 2018-02-12T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-12T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7473-city-council-to-examine-government-sexual-harassment-policies Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/40174658661_26e8b72304_z.jpg" alt="City Council Helen Rosenthal" width="600" height="409" /></p> <p>Council Member Rosenthal (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid a national reckoning with sexual harassment and misconduct that has led to the downfall of prominent men in media, entertainment, and politics, the New York City Council is turning an eye to its own backyard.</p> <p>The City Council will convene a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=594178&amp;GUID=A0B2C143-23F9-4246-8135-2A6CC6A61D60&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">hearing</a> on February 28 to examine best practices for dealing with workplace sexual harassment and the current policies in place in a city with a municipal workforce upwards of 330,000 full-time employees. The Council’s Committee on Women and the Committee on Civil and Human Rights will hear from experts and survivors on the strongest approaches to policy that encourage individuals to report instances of harassment and protect them if they do.</p> <p>The committees are also seeking testimony from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration on the policies at City Hall and the city’s many agencies to determine which departments could serve as a model for a uniform city-wide policy and areas where the city needs to strengthen its rules and enforcement.</p> <p>“My expectation is for the administration to come in and help us set up a baseline of what’s happening right now in terms of policy and reporting of incidents,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the women’s committee, in a phone interview on Friday.</p> <p>Rosenthal said she’s looking to hear from commissioners at agencies that already have strong policies and hopes to create, over the course of several such hearings, a citywide policy by the end of the year. “And then we’ll spend the next three years monitoring the use and challenges to making them better,” she said, alluding to the four-year term for both the current Council class and the mayor.</p> <p>The city does not currently have a blanket harassment policy for municipal employees and the city does not track sexual harassment claims across city agencies. But the mayor’s administration has been pressed into action in recent weeks. At an unrelated <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/024-18/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-first-in-the-nation-goal-divest-fossil-fuels" target="_blank" rel="noopener">January 10 news conference</a>, asked if the city would begin to compile statistics on the problem, de Blasio said, “We have to address this problem across the board in this city and in this country. I want New York City to do all we can do, both in terms of our own workforce and the private sector workforce. We need to figure out what that is and we obviously need to figure out what the legal requirements are, so we will have more to say on that shortly.”</p> <p>The mayor also noted that a majority of women hold leadership positions in his administration and that sexual harassment “has not been a phenomenon that I have heard coming up in our administration in any significant way.” A week before that news conference, the mayor came out in support of a proposal by Governor Andrew Cuomo to require reporting on sexual harassment claims by entities that do business with the state. De Blasio said the city would look to implement similar policies.</p> <p>“We’re coming out with a package of policies and protocols very soon,” said mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips in an email on Friday, when asked about what the administration would present at the Council hearing, which was originally scheduled for February 15 but was deferred.</p> <p>“Our review and policy timing won’t have anything to do with the timing of their hearing, but we’re glad they’re looking into the issue,” Phillips said in a subsequent email when asked whether the policy would be ready in time for the hearing. Another spokesperson, Olivia Lapeyrolerie, said in an email Monday that representatives from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and from the New York City Commission on Human Rights would be at the hearing to testify.</p> <p>City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer introduced legislation last session that would achieve that to a degree by mandating that nonprofits seeking city funding report on how they manage and resolve complaints, and by banning certain organizations with a history of misconduct complaints from receiving taxpayer dollars.</p> <p>Notably, the City Council’s own representatives are not expected to testify, according to a spokesperson for Rosenthal’s office, but the hearing is meant to inform several pieces of legislation that are currently being drafted at the Council.</p> <p>That may include legislation which Council Member Mark Levine <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank">requested</a> in December, aiming to bolster the Council’s own internal processes for dealing with claims of sexual harassment. The proposal would elevate staff member complaints by requiring scrutiny from the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics as opposed to by internal Council staff, and would also require regular reporting on harassment complaints. Currently, the standards and ethics committee -- which is made up of elected City Council members and chaired by Council Member Steven Matteo -- evaluates complaints against sitting Council members, albeit in confidential meetings, and can take various punitive actions ranging from a censure to removal from office.</p> <p>Although there have been few such complaints in recent years, on Monday, the committee <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2018/02/12/council-ethics-committee-assigns-king-sensitivity-training-247084" target="_blank" rel="noopener">substantiated</a> a recent harassment complaint by a staff member against Council Member Andy King of the Bronx. King, who has denied allegations that he “paid unwelcome attention” to the staffer, will be required to undergo ethics and sensitivity training.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>Another bill proposed by Levine, which would mandate that city agencies disclose complaints twice a year, is likely to be discussed at the hearing. Rosenthal, who is working with Levine on the bills, expects that they will be introduced within two months, by the time her committee holds another hearing in April.</p> <p>The Council’s efforts are also a contrast with counterparts in the state Legislature. The state Senate has come under fire over its revised sexual harassment policy, issued in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference which has a power-sharing agreement with the Senate Republicans led by Sen. John Flanagan. The policy has been criticized for being watered-down, crafted in secret and, most strongly, for including an added warning against false reporting.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7463-state-senate-s-new-sexual-harassment-policy-draws-criticism" target="_blank">State Senate’s New Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Criticism</a>]</p> <p>“Having a group of men decide what the policy will be seems unfortunate,” Rosenthal said of the Senate’s process, which was led by an outside law firm at Flanagan’s behest. “We should have input from survivors, women and experts in the field.”</p> <p>The model policy, Rosenthal said, is the “<a href="http://employee.hr.lacounty.gov/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/PolicyOfEquity.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">policy of equity</a>” employed by the County of Los Angeles since 2011. The policy enumerates various forms of harassment in the workplace and the consequences of those actions, and rigorously tracks complaints. In December, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors <a href="http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-sexual-harassment-policies-20171212-story.html">reviewed</a> the policy to improve it further.</p> <p>“Given that we have a president who is a misogynist, I think that the notion that New York City should double down to make sure our house is in good order is more than important,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/40174658661_26e8b72304_z.jpg" alt="City Council Helen Rosenthal" width="600" height="409" /></p> <p>Council Member Rosenthal (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid a national reckoning with sexual harassment and misconduct that has led to the downfall of prominent men in media, entertainment, and politics, the New York City Council is turning an eye to its own backyard.</p> <p>The City Council will convene a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=594178&amp;GUID=A0B2C143-23F9-4246-8135-2A6CC6A61D60&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">hearing</a> on February 28 to examine best practices for dealing with workplace sexual harassment and the current policies in place in a city with a municipal workforce upwards of 330,000 full-time employees. The Council’s Committee on Women and the Committee on Civil and Human Rights will hear from experts and survivors on the strongest approaches to policy that encourage individuals to report instances of harassment and protect them if they do.</p> <p>The committees are also seeking testimony from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration on the policies at City Hall and the city’s many agencies to determine which departments could serve as a model for a uniform city-wide policy and areas where the city needs to strengthen its rules and enforcement.</p> <p>“My expectation is for the administration to come in and help us set up a baseline of what’s happening right now in terms of policy and reporting of incidents,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the women’s committee, in a phone interview on Friday.</p> <p>Rosenthal said she’s looking to hear from commissioners at agencies that already have strong policies and hopes to create, over the course of several such hearings, a citywide policy by the end of the year. “And then we’ll spend the next three years monitoring the use and challenges to making them better,” she said, alluding to the four-year term for both the current Council class and the mayor.</p> <p>The city does not currently have a blanket harassment policy for municipal employees and the city does not track sexual harassment claims across city agencies. But the mayor’s administration has been pressed into action in recent weeks. At an unrelated <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/024-18/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-first-in-the-nation-goal-divest-fossil-fuels" target="_blank" rel="noopener">January 10 news conference</a>, asked if the city would begin to compile statistics on the problem, de Blasio said, “We have to address this problem across the board in this city and in this country. I want New York City to do all we can do, both in terms of our own workforce and the private sector workforce. We need to figure out what that is and we obviously need to figure out what the legal requirements are, so we will have more to say on that shortly.”</p> <p>The mayor also noted that a majority of women hold leadership positions in his administration and that sexual harassment “has not been a phenomenon that I have heard coming up in our administration in any significant way.” A week before that news conference, the mayor came out in support of a proposal by Governor Andrew Cuomo to require reporting on sexual harassment claims by entities that do business with the state. De Blasio said the city would look to implement similar policies.</p> <p>“We’re coming out with a package of policies and protocols very soon,” said mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips in an email on Friday, when asked about what the administration would present at the Council hearing, which was originally scheduled for February 15 but was deferred.</p> <p>“Our review and policy timing won’t have anything to do with the timing of their hearing, but we’re glad they’re looking into the issue,” Phillips said in a subsequent email when asked whether the policy would be ready in time for the hearing. Another spokesperson, Olivia Lapeyrolerie, said in an email Monday that representatives from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and from the New York City Commission on Human Rights would be at the hearing to testify.</p> <p>City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer introduced legislation last session that would achieve that to a degree by mandating that nonprofits seeking city funding report on how they manage and resolve complaints, and by banning certain organizations with a history of misconduct complaints from receiving taxpayer dollars.</p> <p>Notably, the City Council’s own representatives are not expected to testify, according to a spokesperson for Rosenthal’s office, but the hearing is meant to inform several pieces of legislation that are currently being drafted at the Council.</p> <p>That may include legislation which Council Member Mark Levine <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank">requested</a> in December, aiming to bolster the Council’s own internal processes for dealing with claims of sexual harassment. The proposal would elevate staff member complaints by requiring scrutiny from the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics as opposed to by internal Council staff, and would also require regular reporting on harassment complaints. Currently, the standards and ethics committee -- which is made up of elected City Council members and chaired by Council Member Steven Matteo -- evaluates complaints against sitting Council members, albeit in confidential meetings, and can take various punitive actions ranging from a censure to removal from office.</p> <p>Although there have been few such complaints in recent years, on Monday, the committee <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2018/02/12/council-ethics-committee-assigns-king-sensitivity-training-247084" target="_blank" rel="noopener">substantiated</a> a recent harassment complaint by a staff member against Council Member Andy King of the Bronx. King, who has denied allegations that he “paid unwelcome attention” to the staffer, will be required to undergo ethics and sensitivity training.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>Another bill proposed by Levine, which would mandate that city agencies disclose complaints twice a year, is likely to be discussed at the hearing. Rosenthal, who is working with Levine on the bills, expects that they will be introduced within two months, by the time her committee holds another hearing in April.</p> <p>The Council’s efforts are also a contrast with counterparts in the state Legislature. The state Senate has come under fire over its revised sexual harassment policy, issued in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference which has a power-sharing agreement with the Senate Republicans led by Sen. John Flanagan. The policy has been criticized for being watered-down, crafted in secret and, most strongly, for including an added warning against false reporting.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7463-state-senate-s-new-sexual-harassment-policy-draws-criticism" target="_blank">State Senate’s New Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Criticism</a>]</p> <p>“Having a group of men decide what the policy will be seems unfortunate,” Rosenthal said of the Senate’s process, which was led by an outside law firm at Flanagan’s behest. “We should have input from survivors, women and experts in the field.”</p> <p>The model policy, Rosenthal said, is the “<a href="http://employee.hr.lacounty.gov/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/PolicyOfEquity.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">policy of equity</a>” employed by the County of Los Angeles since 2011. The policy enumerates various forms of harassment in the workplace and the consequences of those actions, and rigorously tracks complaints. In December, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors <a href="http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-sexual-harassment-policies-20171212-story.html">reviewed</a> the policy to improve it further.</p> <p>“Given that we have a president who is a misogynist, I think that the notion that New York City should double down to make sure our house is in good order is more than important,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated.</p>
State Senate’s New Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Criticism 2018-02-06T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7463-state-senate-s-new-sexual-harassment-policy-draws-criticism Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/flanagan_podium.jpg" alt="John Flanagan Senate" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Senate Leader John Flanagan (photo: State Senate)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York State Senate leadership’s attempt to revamp its sexual harassment policy is drawing criticism from advocates and lawmakers.</p> <p>Ordered by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, <a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/370365129/2018-NYSenate-Policy-to-Prevent-Discrimination-and-Harassment#from_embed" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the rewrite</a> enhances protections but also adds a seemingly gratuitous line warning that falsely accusing someone is a “serious act.”&nbsp;It comes amid a national reckoning about workplace harassment, including in government, but also follows a claim made against one of the leading members of the state Legislature, Senator Jeff Klein. Klein, whose Independent Democratic Conference forms a ruling coalition with the Senate majority Republican conference, has vehemently denied <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/30/nyregion/ny-senate-harassment-accuser.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">forcibly kissing a staff member</a> outside a bar in 2015.</p> <p>Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the only female leader of a state legislative conference, expressed dismay at the changes in a statement, saying that the warning to false accusers is evidence that the Senate leadership is not serious about combating sexual harassment.</p> <p>“To emphasize the punishment for filing a false report while not emphasizing the seriousness of sexual harassment is exactly the type of intimidation that has silenced so many through the years and encourages perpetrators to attack accusers,” said Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>Other criticisms of the document center around its use of the word "may" rather than "shall" in places, weak anti-retaliation language, and its failure to designate an independent person to report misconduct to.</p> <p>These seeming gaps are drawing questions about the motivation for the policy rewrite and who was involved in drafting it. Spokespersons for the Republican conference and the IDC did not respond to a requests for comment on the matter, but Senate Democrats, three of whom serve on the Senate ethics committee, said they were not consulted.</p> <p>“It just showed up in my staff email two nights ago... I don’t think I even got a direct copy,” said Senator Liz Krueger, who is known for her outspokenness on sexual harassment, during a recent appearance <a href="https://www.wcny.org/february-1-2018-sen-liz-krueger-and-susan-lerner/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on The Capitol Pressroom radio show</a>. “We could have told them everything that was wrong with it, but no one sought [our advice] in advance.”</p> <p>An attorney who is frequently contracted to investigate discrimination and harassment claims involving the Senate, said she also had not been consulted, having not seen the documents until Gotham Gazette sent them to her.</p> <p>“I learned about the new policy when I read about it in the newspaper,” said Pearl Zuchlewski, founding partner of Kraus &amp; Zuchlewski LLP, which has been paid $198,485 by the Senate to investigate personnel claims in 2016 and 2017, according to New York State Comptroller records.</p> <p>Senate Republicans stand behind the policy change, with a spokesperson saying that “the Senate has taken a strong policy and made it even stronger” and noting that the new version adds more examples of what constitutes sexual harassment, giving employees the ability to report an incident directly to the Senate's personnel officer and making clear that retaliation will not be tolerated.</p> <p>“The false complaint provision that is being referenced by Senator Stewart-Cousins existed previously and has not been changed in any meaningful way. It is and always has been wrong to make a false complaint,” said Maureen Wren, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans.</p> <p>While Wren would not provide details of who was involved in drafting, editing, and approving the new harassment policy, Flanagan has repeatedly said recently that he hired an outside firm to work on it, but much remains mysterious about the process.</p> <p>"I asked for an independent review, we hired outside counsel, we strengthened what we do already in the Senate. I was proud of the work that we did before, we took what we did and just made it better," Flanagan said during a question-and-answer session of a Crain’s New York Business appearance January 25.&nbsp;“Everyone should feel comfortable in their work environment,” he added.</p> <p>One of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State proposals, which reflects similar legislation proposed by Assembly Member Sandra Galef, aims to create a uniform sexual harassment policy for all government employees, including all three branches of state government.</p> <p>Currently, the Senate policy covers complaints made against employees of the Senate and the Assembly’s policy covers complaints made against Assembly members and staff, with specific protocol depending on whether a complaint is made against someone working at the Legislature or in district offices. The state’s Joint Committee on Public Ethics, which is made up of Cuomo and legislative appointees, can also investigate a misconduct complaint on its own or with a formal referral from a government entity. Cuomo has proposed adding resources to JCOPE so that it can more quickly and ably conduct misconduct investigations.</p> <p>Klein asked JCOPE to investigate the claim against him and has indicated such an investigation is underway. Flanagan said the Senate would not investigate because the accuser, Erica Vladimer, had not made a formal complaint within the body.</p> <p>There are parts of the Senate policy that now more closely resemble the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy, last updated in 2014 after a major scandal, which is a 13-page document widely seen as a gold standard for sexual harassment policies in government.</p> <p>For example, the section that recommends complainants first communicate their discomfort to the offending party and ask that the behavior stop, now mirrors an italicized line in the Assembly policy emphasizes that while “self help” is recommended it is not required. Another amendment that reflects the Assembly policy, specifies that the claim that alleged misconduct “meant no harm” or was “just a joke” is not an excuse.</p> <p>However, if the impetus for the policy change was to create more parity between the two legislative houses, a side-by-side reading of the Senate and Assembly sexual harassment policies suggests there is still a long way to go, according to Alexis Grenell, a frequent commentator on government reform and gender issues, and a Democratic political consultant.</p> <p>"The Senate policy is a weak imitation of the Assembly version, which is much closer to model language and includes no such warning against false reporting,” said Grenell. “No one wants to be sexually harassed or put themselves through the added stress of an investigation, which is why false reporting is so unusual. It's a red herring problem intended to discourage reporting."</p> <p>The Senate’s new policy also adds a number of protected categories like creed, color, military status, familial status, predisposed genetic characteristics, and domestic violence victim status, but omits gender identity and expression, as noted by Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat.</p> <p>“I would call it a glaring omission -- a real statement as to the values and priorities of the Senate majority,” said Hoylman, noting that statistically transgender people of all groups are most likely to be targeted in hate crimes.</p> <p>Hoylman is the prime sponsor <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/brad-hoylman/senators-squadron-and-hoylman-submit-public-comments-cuomo" target="_blank" rel="noopener">of GENDA</a>, or the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act -- which seeks to extend sex discrimination protections to people discriminated against on the basis of gender identity, expression, or transgender status -- but the Senate majority has prevented the bill from reaching the floor.</p> <p>Many of the gaps cited in the old policy remain in the new version. For example, while the Assembly policy instructs complainants to report incidents to an independent counsel that has been retained, the Senate policy does not provide this avenue for individuals to report misconduct.</p> <p>Senate complainants are still instructed to report incidents to an immediate supervisor or the immediate supervisor of the offender, the appropriate department head, or to his or her appointing authority.</p> <p>If the complaint concerns any of those officials, or the complainant is uncomfortable making a report to any of these individuals, he or she may go to the Senate Personnel Officer, or the Secretary of the Senate.</p> <p>“The concept that you should somehow first report it up the line internal to your office, when the line always goes to a senator, and/or then go to the staff of the majority leader -- also a senator, who frankly has even more reason to want to protect members and the ‘institution’ -- is just wrong,” said Krueger <a href="https://www.wcny.org/february-1-2018-sen-liz-krueger-and-susan-lerner/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on Capitol Pressroom</a>.</p> <p>“I actually think this new policy is worse than the old policy and I don’t understand how in 2018 people don’t understand what the problem is and how we can address it,” said Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat.</p> <p>When describing who will conduct the investigation should one unfold, the language in the Senate policy leaves up to the discretion of Senate leadership whether to hire an independent investigator, by using the word “may” rather than “shall.”</p> <p>Despite that language, Republicans say that sexual harassment complaints within the Senate are handled independently and that it has been <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/state-okays-270g-lawyers-handling-albany-sexual-harassment-article-1.2885398" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the practice for years</a>.</p> <p>By contrast, the Assembly policy indicates that the investigation “shall” be conducted&nbsp;by outside lawyers retained by the Assembly, and offers more detail for protecting the confidentiality of all parties involved as well as witnesses interviewed.</p> <p>“Once you get into the question of what’s going to happen if there is a problem, this policy is not nearly as strong and clear as it needs to be,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of reform group Common Cause, <a href="https://www.wcny.org/february-1-2018-sen-liz-krueger-and-susan-lerner/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on The Capitol Pressroom last week</a>, speaking with Senator Krueger with host Susan Arbetter.</p> <p>Other changes to the Senate policy include the addition of a 30-day time limit for both the accused and the accuser to appeal a decision.</p> <p>The Assembly policy, which also includes a 30 day appeal time limit, has also been praised for taking steps to protect the privacy of accusers when they come forward and ensuring that they do not face retaliation by specifying harsh penalties for such behavior. The Senate’s two-paragraph anti-retaliation section is less specific.</p> <p>The Assembly approach is not without question. In late 2017, Republican Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin was sanctioned by the Assembly ethics committee for allegedly asking a female Assembly aide for nude photos, lying about it, and then leaking her name to colleagues in the Legislature. At the time, questions were raised about the length of time it took for the investigation to unfold, as by the time McLaughlin faced disciplinary action, he was already on his way out of the Assembly, having been elected Rensselaer County Executive earlier that month.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/flanagan_podium.jpg" alt="John Flanagan Senate" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Senate Leader John Flanagan (photo: State Senate)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York State Senate leadership’s attempt to revamp its sexual harassment policy is drawing criticism from advocates and lawmakers.</p> <p>Ordered by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, <a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/370365129/2018-NYSenate-Policy-to-Prevent-Discrimination-and-Harassment#from_embed" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the rewrite</a> enhances protections but also adds a seemingly gratuitous line warning that falsely accusing someone is a “serious act.”&nbsp;It comes amid a national reckoning about workplace harassment, including in government, but also follows a claim made against one of the leading members of the state Legislature, Senator Jeff Klein. Klein, whose Independent Democratic Conference forms a ruling coalition with the Senate majority Republican conference, has vehemently denied <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/30/nyregion/ny-senate-harassment-accuser.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">forcibly kissing a staff member</a> outside a bar in 2015.</p> <p>Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the only female leader of a state legislative conference, expressed dismay at the changes in a statement, saying that the warning to false accusers is evidence that the Senate leadership is not serious about combating sexual harassment.</p> <p>“To emphasize the punishment for filing a false report while not emphasizing the seriousness of sexual harassment is exactly the type of intimidation that has silenced so many through the years and encourages perpetrators to attack accusers,” said Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>Other criticisms of the document center around its use of the word "may" rather than "shall" in places, weak anti-retaliation language, and its failure to designate an independent person to report misconduct to.</p> <p>These seeming gaps are drawing questions about the motivation for the policy rewrite and who was involved in drafting it. Spokespersons for the Republican conference and the IDC did not respond to a requests for comment on the matter, but Senate Democrats, three of whom serve on the Senate ethics committee, said they were not consulted.</p> <p>“It just showed up in my staff email two nights ago... I don’t think I even got a direct copy,” said Senator Liz Krueger, who is known for her outspokenness on sexual harassment, during a recent appearance <a href="https://www.wcny.org/february-1-2018-sen-liz-krueger-and-susan-lerner/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on The Capitol Pressroom radio show</a>. “We could have told them everything that was wrong with it, but no one sought [our advice] in advance.”</p> <p>An attorney who is frequently contracted to investigate discrimination and harassment claims involving the Senate, said she also had not been consulted, having not seen the documents until Gotham Gazette sent them to her.</p> <p>“I learned about the new policy when I read about it in the newspaper,” said Pearl Zuchlewski, founding partner of Kraus &amp; Zuchlewski LLP, which has been paid $198,485 by the Senate to investigate personnel claims in 2016 and 2017, according to New York State Comptroller records.</p> <p>Senate Republicans stand behind the policy change, with a spokesperson saying that “the Senate has taken a strong policy and made it even stronger” and noting that the new version adds more examples of what constitutes sexual harassment, giving employees the ability to report an incident directly to the Senate's personnel officer and making clear that retaliation will not be tolerated.</p> <p>“The false complaint provision that is being referenced by Senator Stewart-Cousins existed previously and has not been changed in any meaningful way. It is and always has been wrong to make a false complaint,” said Maureen Wren, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans.</p> <p>While Wren would not provide details of who was involved in drafting, editing, and approving the new harassment policy, Flanagan has repeatedly said recently that he hired an outside firm to work on it, but much remains mysterious about the process.</p> <p>"I asked for an independent review, we hired outside counsel, we strengthened what we do already in the Senate. I was proud of the work that we did before, we took what we did and just made it better," Flanagan said during a question-and-answer session of a Crain’s New York Business appearance January 25.&nbsp;“Everyone should feel comfortable in their work environment,” he added.</p> <p>One of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State proposals, which reflects similar legislation proposed by Assembly Member Sandra Galef, aims to create a uniform sexual harassment policy for all government employees, including all three branches of state government.</p> <p>Currently, the Senate policy covers complaints made against employees of the Senate and the Assembly’s policy covers complaints made against Assembly members and staff, with specific protocol depending on whether a complaint is made against someone working at the Legislature or in district offices. The state’s Joint Committee on Public Ethics, which is made up of Cuomo and legislative appointees, can also investigate a misconduct complaint on its own or with a formal referral from a government entity. Cuomo has proposed adding resources to JCOPE so that it can more quickly and ably conduct misconduct investigations.</p> <p>Klein asked JCOPE to investigate the claim against him and has indicated such an investigation is underway. Flanagan said the Senate would not investigate because the accuser, Erica Vladimer, had not made a formal complaint within the body.</p> <p>There are parts of the Senate policy that now more closely resemble the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy, last updated in 2014 after a major scandal, which is a 13-page document widely seen as a gold standard for sexual harassment policies in government.</p> <p>For example, the section that recommends complainants first communicate their discomfort to the offending party and ask that the behavior stop, now mirrors an italicized line in the Assembly policy emphasizes that while “self help” is recommended it is not required. Another amendment that reflects the Assembly policy, specifies that the claim that alleged misconduct “meant no harm” or was “just a joke” is not an excuse.</p> <p>However, if the impetus for the policy change was to create more parity between the two legislative houses, a side-by-side reading of the Senate and Assembly sexual harassment policies suggests there is still a long way to go, according to Alexis Grenell, a frequent commentator on government reform and gender issues, and a Democratic political consultant.</p> <p>"The Senate policy is a weak imitation of the Assembly version, which is much closer to model language and includes no such warning against false reporting,” said Grenell. “No one wants to be sexually harassed or put themselves through the added stress of an investigation, which is why false reporting is so unusual. It's a red herring problem intended to discourage reporting."</p> <p>The Senate’s new policy also adds a number of protected categories like creed, color, military status, familial status, predisposed genetic characteristics, and domestic violence victim status, but omits gender identity and expression, as noted by Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat.</p> <p>“I would call it a glaring omission -- a real statement as to the values and priorities of the Senate majority,” said Hoylman, noting that statistically transgender people of all groups are most likely to be targeted in hate crimes.</p> <p>Hoylman is the prime sponsor <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/brad-hoylman/senators-squadron-and-hoylman-submit-public-comments-cuomo" target="_blank" rel="noopener">of GENDA</a>, or the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act -- which seeks to extend sex discrimination protections to people discriminated against on the basis of gender identity, expression, or transgender status -- but the Senate majority has prevented the bill from reaching the floor.</p> <p>Many of the gaps cited in the old policy remain in the new version. For example, while the Assembly policy instructs complainants to report incidents to an independent counsel that has been retained, the Senate policy does not provide this avenue for individuals to report misconduct.</p> <p>Senate complainants are still instructed to report incidents to an immediate supervisor or the immediate supervisor of the offender, the appropriate department head, or to his or her appointing authority.</p> <p>If the complaint concerns any of those officials, or the complainant is uncomfortable making a report to any of these individuals, he or she may go to the Senate Personnel Officer, or the Secretary of the Senate.</p> <p>“The concept that you should somehow first report it up the line internal to your office, when the line always goes to a senator, and/or then go to the staff of the majority leader -- also a senator, who frankly has even more reason to want to protect members and the ‘institution’ -- is just wrong,” said Krueger <a href="https://www.wcny.org/february-1-2018-sen-liz-krueger-and-susan-lerner/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on Capitol Pressroom</a>.</p> <p>“I actually think this new policy is worse than the old policy and I don’t understand how in 2018 people don’t understand what the problem is and how we can address it,” said Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat.</p> <p>When describing who will conduct the investigation should one unfold, the language in the Senate policy leaves up to the discretion of Senate leadership whether to hire an independent investigator, by using the word “may” rather than “shall.”</p> <p>Despite that language, Republicans say that sexual harassment complaints within the Senate are handled independently and that it has been <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/state-okays-270g-lawyers-handling-albany-sexual-harassment-article-1.2885398" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the practice for years</a>.</p> <p>By contrast, the Assembly policy indicates that the investigation “shall” be conducted&nbsp;by outside lawyers retained by the Assembly, and offers more detail for protecting the confidentiality of all parties involved as well as witnesses interviewed.</p> <p>“Once you get into the question of what’s going to happen if there is a problem, this policy is not nearly as strong and clear as it needs to be,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of reform group Common Cause, <a href="https://www.wcny.org/february-1-2018-sen-liz-krueger-and-susan-lerner/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on The Capitol Pressroom last week</a>, speaking with Senator Krueger with host Susan Arbetter.</p> <p>Other changes to the Senate policy include the addition of a 30-day time limit for both the accused and the accuser to appeal a decision.</p> <p>The Assembly policy, which also includes a 30 day appeal time limit, has also been praised for taking steps to protect the privacy of accusers when they come forward and ensuring that they do not face retaliation by specifying harsh penalties for such behavior. The Senate’s two-paragraph anti-retaliation section is less specific.</p> <p>The Assembly approach is not without question. In late 2017, Republican Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin was sanctioned by the Assembly ethics committee for allegedly asking a female Assembly aide for nude photos, lying about it, and then leaking her name to colleagues in the Legislature. At the time, questions were raised about the length of time it took for the investigation to unfold, as by the time McLaughlin faced disciplinary action, he was already on his way out of the Assembly, having been elected Rensselaer County Executive earlier that month.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Council Members Announce Legislation to Root Out Sexual Misconduct in City Government 2017-12-07T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-07T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/rosenthal_levine_sexual_harassment_legislation.jpg" alt="rosenthal levine sexual harassment legislation" width="600" height="369" /></p> <p>Council Members Rosenthal and Levine (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid a national outcry against sexual assault and sexual harassment, including in the workplace -- intensified by numerous accusations against sitting members of Congress that have resulted in two resignations thus far -- members of the New York City Council are stepping up to combat, prevent and expose any cases of sexual misconduct within their own ranks and that of the gargantuan city government.</p> <p>A series of bills proposed on Thursday by two Council members aim to bring to light any instances of sexual harassment at the City Council, city agencies, and even at organizations that contract with the city or receive city funds.</p> <p>“This moment has the potential to be a turning point, but it will only stick if policy makers seize this opportunity to not just punish individual abusers but reform the system that enabled that abuse,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, at a news conference at City Hall. Rosenthal was appearing with Council Member Mark Levine, who requested the new legislation on sexual harassment policies. “Institutions like the City Council must step up and interrupt the power dynamics that have allowed abuses to exist just under the surface for far too long,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>Levine, a Manhattan Democrat who is running to be the Council’s next speaker, has requested that bills be drafted to strengthen the City Council’s policies on sexual harassment, requiring that complaints by Council staffers be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics rather than the Council central staff, as is the case right now. The committee currently only investigates complaints against the elected members of the Council and has the power to discipline them through an official censure, fine, removal from a committee or expulsion from the body. The Council would also have to regularly report the status of complaints to those bringing the claims.</p> <p>Levine’s proposals are not limited to internal Council practices. He also asked for bills mandating twice yearly disclosure of sexual harassment claims at all city agencies, and has proposed creating a task force to assess agency policies to improve reporting standards and to make it easier for those subjected to harassment to come forward.</p> <p>“At a time of something of a national awakening to the epidemic of sexual harassment and abuse of power by men in the workplace, in industries like Hollywood, in newsrooms, in the halls of Congress...it would be dangerously naive of us to think that we’re not facing a similar epidemic in the workforce of this city,” Levine said. “It would also be naive for us to assume that in the City Council with its staff of about 300 that we are immune from this epidemic.” <br /> <br />Separately, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer from Queens, another speaker candidate, has proposed two bills that would mandate reporting of sexual harassment policies -- how complaints are resolved, disciplinary and training practices -- from organizations that apply for city funding and would impose a minimum five-year ban from receiving city funds on organizations with multiple complaints. “The #MeToo movement is about exposing systematic workplace sexual harassment and assault, but it's up to lawmakers now to push forward solutions to address it,” Van Bramer said in a statement.</p> <p>At Thursday’s news conference, which included advocates and Council Members Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Jumaane Williams, who is also running for speaker, Levine said he was not aware of instances of harassment that had occurred at the Council in the last few years, either involving Council members or their staff. When asked by Gotham Gazette if he would ask the current speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and the current staff to make public any possible instances, he said, “Our bill is not retroactive...I certainly would encourage that but our bill is only effective from the day it passes.”</p> <p>Levine also acknowledged that with the Council’s busy end-of-term schedule and with only two more full-Council meetings on the docket to close out the year and the term, the bills are unlikely to become law this year. “It’s almost certainly too late to pass before the end of the session but this will be a top priority of mine in whatever role I happen to be occupying come January,” he said. “We want to be proactive.”</p> <p>Members of women’s advocacy organizations praised the reforms proposed Thursday. Ella Mae Estrada, associate dean and chief diversity officer of New York Law School, also announced at the news conference that the School would be partnering with the City Council and Assemblymember Charles Lavine to bring together elected officials, activists and academics for the National Conference on Sexual Harassment in the Government Workplace. “We are all part of an overdue and needed conversation in this country about sexual harassment and we all have an obligation in creating workplaces that are safe and respectful for all of our employees,” Estrada said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/rosenthal_levine_sexual_harassment_legislation.jpg" alt="rosenthal levine sexual harassment legislation" width="600" height="369" /></p> <p>Council Members Rosenthal and Levine (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid a national outcry against sexual assault and sexual harassment, including in the workplace -- intensified by numerous accusations against sitting members of Congress that have resulted in two resignations thus far -- members of the New York City Council are stepping up to combat, prevent and expose any cases of sexual misconduct within their own ranks and that of the gargantuan city government.</p> <p>A series of bills proposed on Thursday by two Council members aim to bring to light any instances of sexual harassment at the City Council, city agencies, and even at organizations that contract with the city or receive city funds.</p> <p>“This moment has the potential to be a turning point, but it will only stick if policy makers seize this opportunity to not just punish individual abusers but reform the system that enabled that abuse,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, at a news conference at City Hall. Rosenthal was appearing with Council Member Mark Levine, who requested the new legislation on sexual harassment policies. “Institutions like the City Council must step up and interrupt the power dynamics that have allowed abuses to exist just under the surface for far too long,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>Levine, a Manhattan Democrat who is running to be the Council’s next speaker, has requested that bills be drafted to strengthen the City Council’s policies on sexual harassment, requiring that complaints by Council staffers be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics rather than the Council central staff, as is the case right now. The committee currently only investigates complaints against the elected members of the Council and has the power to discipline them through an official censure, fine, removal from a committee or expulsion from the body. The Council would also have to regularly report the status of complaints to those bringing the claims.</p> <p>Levine’s proposals are not limited to internal Council practices. He also asked for bills mandating twice yearly disclosure of sexual harassment claims at all city agencies, and has proposed creating a task force to assess agency policies to improve reporting standards and to make it easier for those subjected to harassment to come forward.</p> <p>“At a time of something of a national awakening to the epidemic of sexual harassment and abuse of power by men in the workplace, in industries like Hollywood, in newsrooms, in the halls of Congress...it would be dangerously naive of us to think that we’re not facing a similar epidemic in the workforce of this city,” Levine said. “It would also be naive for us to assume that in the City Council with its staff of about 300 that we are immune from this epidemic.” <br /> <br />Separately, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer from Queens, another speaker candidate, has proposed two bills that would mandate reporting of sexual harassment policies -- how complaints are resolved, disciplinary and training practices -- from organizations that apply for city funding and would impose a minimum five-year ban from receiving city funds on organizations with multiple complaints. “The #MeToo movement is about exposing systematic workplace sexual harassment and assault, but it's up to lawmakers now to push forward solutions to address it,” Van Bramer said in a statement.</p> <p>At Thursday’s news conference, which included advocates and Council Members Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Jumaane Williams, who is also running for speaker, Levine said he was not aware of instances of harassment that had occurred at the Council in the last few years, either involving Council members or their staff. When asked by Gotham Gazette if he would ask the current speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and the current staff to make public any possible instances, he said, “Our bill is not retroactive...I certainly would encourage that but our bill is only effective from the day it passes.”</p> <p>Levine also acknowledged that with the Council’s busy end-of-term schedule and with only two more full-Council meetings on the docket to close out the year and the term, the bills are unlikely to become law this year. “It’s almost certainly too late to pass before the end of the session but this will be a top priority of mine in whatever role I happen to be occupying come January,” he said. “We want to be proactive.”</p> <p>Members of women’s advocacy organizations praised the reforms proposed Thursday. Ella Mae Estrada, associate dean and chief diversity officer of New York Law School, also announced at the news conference that the School would be partnering with the City Council and Assemblymember Charles Lavine to bring together elected officials, activists and academics for the National Conference on Sexual Harassment in the Government Workplace. “We are all part of an overdue and needed conversation in this country about sexual harassment and we all have an obligation in creating workplaces that are safe and respectful for all of our employees,” Estrada said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>