From Weinstein to Epstein, the #MeToo movement has brought mass exposure to the rampant sexual harassment women everywhere face on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the journey to a world in which women do not have to endure such blatant injustices is far from over, the latest addition to a seemingly never ending saga of sexual harassment scandals centering New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.
On August 3, 2021, New York State Attorney General Letitia James released a glaring report detailing countless instances in which former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed eleven different women, nine of whom were current or former state employees. James’s 165-page report details just how egregious Cuomo’s conduct was, stating that the former Governor created a “hostile work environment for women,” specifically through unwelcomed and nonconsensual touching, as well as inappropriate and sexually “suggestive” remarks. It is reported, for example, that he frequently addressed women as “honey, sweetheart, or darling,” which, needless to say, are all extremely offensive and belittling terms to any woman in a professional context. The behavior detailed in James’ report finds that Governor Cuomo violated federal (Title VII), state (New York State Human Rights Act), and city (New York City Human Rights Act) laws, quite a condemning conclusion for a man whose job it was to uphold and enforce these laws.
The first person to speak out against Cuomo was Lindsey Boylan, Deputy Secretary for Economic Development, who says he tried to kiss her against her will, often made comments on her appearance, invited her to play strip poker on a government plane, and would frequently touch her waist, legs, and back. Additional allegations include groping Executive Assistant Brittany Commisso’s breast after getting her alone in his office, as well as running his finger down the spine of a state trooper whose job it was to protect him; unfortunately, the list goes on and on. As one of the many women accusing the former Governor put it, “the way Cuomo operates is by daring women to make an impossible choice: endure his abuse silently or speak up and risk your career.”
Following this slew of disgraceful allegations, on August 10, 2021, Cuomo officially announced that he would be resigning from his post as Governor. “No one ever told me at the time I made them feel uncomfortable,” he said, an extremely weak attempt at defending his actions, as though his own ignorance to the matter alleviated these women of the pain and trauma he inflicted upon them.
Additionally, Cuomo’s own second in command, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, referred to his conduct as “repulsive and unlawful.” She will now be the first woman to lead the state as New York’s 57th Governor–indeed, it is ironic that it took the exposure of massive sexual misconduct by a man in power to finally place a woman in this crucial leadership role.
Perhaps the most ironic piece of this entire story, however, is that during his time as Governor, Cuomo himself made a point to tighten restrictions on sexual harassment in New York State, presenting himself as a champion of the MeToo movement. Under Title VII, it is required that one must prove a hostile work environment to be both “pervasive and severe” in order to constitute a sufficient claim. The New York State law used to coincide with this Title VII restriction, until Cuomo lowered the standard of proof so that one did not need to prove the environment to be “pervasive” in order to bring forth a successful sexual harassment claim. Legally speaking, his own behavior was of the highest standard the law originally prohibited, the environment described by these eleven women certainly pervasive and severe. Indeed, one wonders whether Cuomo signed these laws into action in an attempt to mask his own illegal conduct, or, perhaps even more outrageously, whether he truly believed his own behavior to be innocent. “In my mind,” Cuomo stated during a televised news conference, “I’ve never crossed the line with anyone.” Ignorantly, he added, “I did not realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn.” The line is pretty simple: treat women – indeed all people — with basic dignity and respect.
Indeed, it is appalling to think that someone who claimed to dedicate himself to our safety, especially during a deadly global pandemic, has been making women feel utterly unsafe in the workplace on a daily basis. The sheer number of allegations begs the question of how many other women Cuomo harassed who remained silent due to fear of retaliation and defamation. Additionally, the most recent development reported is that Cuomo is now attempting to claim his pension even after resignation, which could entitle him to $50,000 per year. Should we really continue to pay someone who committed such consistently outrageous acts against women?
Simply put, sex is driven by the desire for another; power is fueled by the control of another. Thus, sexual harassment is not primarily about sex, but instead about power; when the powerful introduce sex into the workplace, they inevitably harass those towards whom they direct their sexualized conduct. Sex outside of the workplace among willing partners begets intimacy and pleasure; sex within the workplace that is inflicted upon unwilling participants produces alienation and pain. While lovers traffic in intimacy, predators harass their prey into submission through domination. While Andrew Cuomo may have deluded himself into thinking he was a great lover, the women he victimized experienced him for who he really was — a chronic predator. We at Filippatos PLLC applaud all the brave women and their steadfast supporters of all genders who courageously spoke truth to power and miraculously toppled a tyrant.
(Sources: CNN, ABC7, The Guardian)