Investigation into Sexual Allegations Shines Light on Role of Workplace Culture

Global HR

​An investigation by the New York State Attorney General’s office into allegations that Gov. Andrew N. Cuomo sexually harassed a number of current and former state employees highlights how a toxic workplace culture can allow sexual harassment to occur.

At issue are the findings from a 165-page report the state attorney general’s office released Aug. 3. It concluded that his sexual harassment extended to his own staff and other state employees—including a state trooper on his protective detail—and in doing so he violated federal and state law.

“We also conclude that the executive chamber’s culture—one filled with fear and intimidation, while at the same time normalizing the governor’s frequent flirtations and gender-based comments—contributed to the conditions that allowed the sexual harassment to occur and persist. That culture also influenced the improper and inadequate ways in which the executive chamber has responded to allegations of harassment,” the report said.

Cuomo has denied the allegations.

“The facts are much different than what has been portrayed,” he said. “I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances. I am 63 years old. I’ve lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am and that’s not who I have ever been.”

Additionally, his attorney issued a statement addressing the allegations against him.

The report noted that the governor’s alleged actions “did not occur in a vacuum” and that an overall toxic culture “was relevant to important aspects of our findings, including how the governor appeared to believe he never behaved inappropriately, as well as the complainants’ willingness, delay, and sometimes refusal to report inappropriate conduct within the Executive Chamber.”

[SHRM member-only tools: Workplace Harassment Resources]

Speaking up against a toxic workplace culture can be difficult, as heard in countless #MeToo stories that ultimately prompted calls for workplace overhauls, including reviews and revisions of workplace policies, online harassment hotlines that took complaints directly to boards and CEOs, changes in the law and bans on company nondisclosure agreements.

Individuals accused of sexually harassing members have resigned, such as former Fox News chief executive officer Roger Ailes, been fired, such as former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, or faced legal action.

College campuses and organizations such as the National Partnership for Women & Families and the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and others responded by creating training to teach employees about bystander intervention.

SHRM Online has collected the following resources and news stories on sexual harassment in the workplace:

Quirky N.Y. Law Prevented AG James from Charging Cuomo

When New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Tuesday that an independent probe found that Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed almost a dozen women, the state’s top law-enforcement officer never had the option of filing criminal charges against him.

Under New York’s executive law, the attorney general can’t open criminal investigations or bring charges without a green light from the governor or one of his department heads. James never got such approval.

The law is so quirky that James needed a hard-fought referral from Cuomo’s office in March to open her limited civil inquiry, which culminated in the damning report.
(Bloomberg Law

What’s Next for Cuomo After Sexual Harassment Report?

The governor is being investigated by four district attorneys. Albany District Attorney David Soares said Tuesday his office is reviewing the report’s findings to see whether criminal charges should be filed and encouraged more victims to come forward. He called the matter “developing” and said his office would be reviewing the documents.
(ABC News

Sexual Harassment

It is unlawful to harass a job applicant or an employee because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
(U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training for Employees

This sample presentation is intended for employees, rather than supervisors and managers. This presentation does not include detailed information on retaliation and employer liability; please see the supervisor version of this presentation for those details. It is designed to be presented by someone who is knowledgeable about sexual harassment and the employer’s own policy on sexual harassment. This presentation should be customized to include and match the employer’s own policies and practices. 

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