Analysis: WNY sexual harassment lawyer shares what stands out in Cuomo report
The New York State Attorney General’s Office announced that their investigation has concluded Gov. Andrew Cuomo had sexually harassed current and former state employees.
WBFO's Emyle Watkins spoke with a local legal expert about what stands out from this report.
This report includes descriptions of sexual harassment that may be upsetting to some listeners or readers.
ATTORNEY GENERAL TISH JAMES: The report speaks for itself and right now I think we should all be focused on the courageous, and bravery of the women who came forward. And all of us should be focused on keeping women safe, believing women, and allowing women to speak their truth. And that's exactly what this document does.
EMYLE WATKINS: 11 accounts. 179 people interviewed. 74,000 pieces of evidence. And on Tuesday – all of it led to a report from the Attorney General of New York concluding that Gov. Andrew Cuomo did sexually harass current and former state employees, violating state and federal law.
Attorney General Tish James’ report also concluded that Cuomo showed a “pattern of behavior that extended to his interactions with others outside of State government.” It was also concluded that the Executive Chamber violated its own policies and responded in one instance with “unlawful retaliation.”
Lindy Korn is a Buffalo-area attorney whose work concentrates on sexual harassment. She says what stands out about this investigation was how many people came together to give details on Cuomo’s pattern and what the attorney general has called an “overall hostile work environment” in the Executive Chamber.
LINDY KORN: When you have people who complain, when you have people who document, and when you have people that speak up, so there's a pattern because it never just happens once... those all make sexual harassment be taken very seriously by an employer.
EMYLE WATKINS: Investigators found all 11 people who came forward to be credible.
The report covers seven years and also concludes that the “culture of fear and intimidation” as well as the normalization of inappropriate interactions, contributed to the sexual harassment.
Korn says that her opinion is that this report exposes a lot of problems with sexual harassment in the workplace that need to be examined.
LINDY KORN: I think what it shows is that our policies are not working, that our complaint proceeds are not working. And that power, and the abuse of power, is what needs to be examined.
EMYLE WATKINS: Korn added that she feels part of what employers and workplaces need to do to combat sexual harassment, and cultures that perpetuate, it is a focus on mental health.
LINDY KORN: Policies aren't going to change behavior. You need to get help. You need... we need the social workers, the therapists, the psychologists, the psychiatrists. That, you know, you need. People need to get help when they have inappropriate boundaries.
EMYLE WATKINS: President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz are among many now calling for Cuomo’s resignation.
Cuomo did respond to the AG’s report on Tuesday, claiming that he “never touched anyone inappropriately, or made inappropriate sexual advances” and he attempted to defend his actions, showing a slide show of him kissing various people.
ANDREW CUOMO: I do kiss people on the forehead. I do kiss people on the cheek. I do kiss people on the hand. I do embrace people. I do hug people...
EMYLE WATKINS: Cuomo went on to say that he did not understand the cultural implications of his actions.
ANDREW CUOMO: I now understand that there are generational or cultural perspectives, that frankly, I hadn't fully appreciated. And I have learned from this.
EMYLE WATKINS: The public report has been provided to every member of the State Assembly and Judiciary Committee, says Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. In a statement, Heastie said that they will now “undertake an in-depth examination of the report” and that Cuomo’s actions quote “would indicate someone who is not fit for office.”