BUFFALO, N.Y. (CN) – Six women whose sexual harassment allegations brought down a New York lawmaker took their claims to court too late to take home damages, a state appeals court ruled Friday.
Though the #metoo movement has made such claims ubiquitous in the last several months, former Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak was an early target.
A married father of two, the Democrat stepped down as representative of the 143rd District of New York amid reports that he was under investigation for ethics violations.
At the time, then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver described the allegations against Gabryszak as “extremely disturbing,” and the ethics commission ultimately fined Gabryszak $100,000 for violating legislative conduct rules.
Six of Gabryszak’s former staffers meanwhile shared their stories in multiple lawsuits filed in Buffalo. The women alleged that Gabryszak constantly spoke about prostitutes and visits to a local strip club, invited one of them to a massage parlor on her first day of work, plied others with such gifts as Coach handbags and pearls, and offered one of the women $100,000 to leave her fiance and relocate to western New York.
Each lawsuit named Gabryszak as a defendant, as well as the assembly, the state, Speaker Silver and chief of staff Adam Locher, claiming they had brushed off complaints about Gabryszak for his seven-year tenure.
Annalise Freling alleged in her suit that Gabryszak had sent her pictures of himself in a bathroom stall pretending to receive fellatio, and later sent her a Facebook message referring to Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis as “Malliocockkis.”
“You’re so hot, you know what I want to do with you,” he told Freling, according to her lawsuit.
Kristy Mazurek claimed in her suit that Gabryszak had wanted her and another staffer to dress in sexy elf costumes and sit on his lap for the office Christmas photo.
Gabryszak also threatened the women, the complaints said, telling them he had hired them for their looks. Mazurek claimed he had slashed her $52,000 salary nearly in half when she refused his advances.
Each of the claims against New York were ultimately dismissed, however, on the basis that they were either not specific enough or were not timely filed.
On Friday a five-judge panel on the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division for the Fourth Judicial Department unanimously affirmed.
Noting that New York State judicial rules require put a 90-days deadline on some claims, and six months for others, the ruling says that the claims by Freling, Mazurek, Emily Trimper and Tina Tradone were all filed more than six months after their terminations.
In Freling’s case, she had been discharged in March 2013 and then filed her notice of intention roughly nine months later in December. Trimper, Tradone, and Mazurek had ended their employment in 2010, years earlier than their claims.
As for the other two plaintiffs, Kimberly Snickles and Jamie Campbell, the court said their claims were not specific enough, failing to list the places where the misconduct occurred.
Both women had argued that Gabryszak could have ascertained such information from public records, but the court ruled that state officials should not be made to do so.
Citing the 2003 decision in Lepkowski v. State of New York, the court said a defendant should not be made to “ferret out or assemble” that kind of information.
John Bartolomei, an attorney for Snickles, said they intend to appeal.
“It is ironic that the nation can be so concerned with sexual harassment in the workplace while our own state officials and lawmakers use the very laws that they adopted, such as statutes of limitations and fine lines of legal interpretation, to aggressively defend and avoid valid claims by victims of lawmakers themselves,” Bartolomei said in an email.
“It is even more bizarre that the NYS Attorney General is aggressively (but properly) pursuing Harvey Weinstein but just as aggressively trying to avoid responsibility for clear acts of sexual abuse by NYS lawmakers.”
Former Speaker Silver left office in disgrace as well while Gabryszak’s case was pending.
Silver is set to face a retrial on corruption charges and has also been criticized over the years for either turning a blind eye to allegation of harassment among his colleagues and even for allegedly helping arrange payouts to harassment victims.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, however, New York state lawmakers have taken harassment claims more seriously. A letter circulated by Assemblywomen Amy Paulin and Anne Simon criticized “bipartisan bad behavior” among state lawmakers and a “culture that demeans and belittles those who find themselves in these situations.”