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Cuomo aide brings sexual harassment suit against former NY governor

A former aide filed a sexual harassment complaint against former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo one day after he filed an ethics complaint deriding the state probe that triggered his resignation last year.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was sued on Wednesday by a former executive assistant whose accusations of unwanted sexual advances led to his August 2021 resignation.

Charlotte Bennett, a low-level aide in Cuomo’s administration until November 2020, first came forward with allegations against the governor when she told The New York Times in February 2021 that Cuomo had asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life, including whether she ever had sex with older men.

“My career as a public servant was abruptly cut short because of Governor Cuomo’s and his top aides’ sexual harassment and retaliation against me after I complained about Governor Cuomo’s misconduct. They must all be held accountable for their actions,” Bennett said Wednesday, announcing her civil suit against the former governor.

Bennett’s lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, accuses Cuomo of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

“Throughout her employment as defendant Cuomo’s executive assistant, the then-governor subjected her to sexualized comments about her appearance, assigned her humiliating and demeaning tasks, and beginning in early June 2020, subjected her to invasive and unwanted questions about her personal life, romantic and sexual relationships, and history as a survivor of sexual assault,” her complaint states. “He told her he was ‘lonely,’ wanted a girlfriend who lived in Albany, and was willing to date someone over the age of 21 years old.”

Represented by whistleblower law firm Katz Banks Kumin LLP and New York City’s Eisenberg & Schnell, Bennett’s lawsuits allege that Cuomo’s comments and behavior were unwelcome and she “reasonably perceived them to constitute a sexual advance.”

The complaint also accuses Cuomo of actively disparaging Bennett in retaliation for speaking out against him, and to undermine her credibility as a complainant in the state Attorney General’s probe.

“Defendant Cuomo, personally and through his attorney, Rita Glavin, continue to retaliate against Ms. Bennett by smearing her reputation and otherwise attempting to discredit her during press conferences and through dissemination of material on the former governor’s campaign website,” the complaint states.

Bennett alleges Cuomo and his aides enlisted the assistance of his brother, Chris Cuomo, then an anchor on CNN, and others to carry out his smear campaign.

“Those around him enabled him, placated him, and covered up his egregious behavior, managing out women who complained about his misconduct rather than insisting that their complaints be investigated as the law required," attorney Debra Katz said Wednesday. "He and his aides repeatedly violated the law, and they must be held accountable.”

The complaint names three of Cuomo’s top aides as co-defendants: Jill DesRosiers, Judith Mogul, and Melissa DeRosa.

Less than two weeks after Bennett made her allegations public, New York Attorney General Letitia James commenced an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo.

Cuomo has repeatedly denied any inappropriate touching but did apologize in a February 2021 statement for interactions that “may have been insensitive or too personal," and said he had intended to be a mentor for Bennett.

In a statement on Wednesday, Cuomo’s attorney said Cuomo “has always said he didn’t harass anyone and with each day that goes by more and more information is uncovered showing how evidence favorable to the governor was suppressed and crucial facts ignored or omitted that undermined witness credibility.”

“We’ll see them in court,” she added.

The suit seeks unspecified damages, saying Bennett experienced near-debilitating anxiety, symptoms of depression and a neurological disorder after a barrage of inappropriate comments by the governor spoiled her job as a health policy adviser in the governor’s administration.

Cuomo resigned in August 2021 to bypass his likely impeachment after the New York attorney general released the findings of her office’s five-month investigation, which concluded he "did sexually harass multiple women — including former and current state employees — by engaging in unwanted groping, kissing, and hugging, and making inappropriate comments.”

Cuomo on Tuesday filed a 48-page ethics complaint against James, the state attorney general, reiterating his oft-repeated gripes about the way she handled the sexual harassment investigation that led to his resignation in his third term last year.

Cuomo questioned the accuracy and credibility of the investigation’s findings, alleging James, a fellow Democrat, “cynically manipulated a legal process for personal, political gain,” and that she used the probe to tarnish him while furthering her own political interests.

James, who briefly ran for governor after Cuomo resigned, “had her own politically-motivated and self-interest driven agenda,” Cuomo said.

“She engaged in a terrible and quite obvious manipulation of facts, evidence and the law, furthered a false narrative about me, and hid evidence that undermined the report from the media and the public,” he added.

Cuomo's letter to the Attorney Grievance Committee of the state trial court’s appellate division also accused two lawyers James hired to conduct the probe, Joon Kim and Anne Clark, of bias.

Bennett’s accusations of sexual harassment in Cuomo’s Albany office came days after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, a former deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor, expounded on harassment allegations she first made in December 2020.

“His inappropriate behavior toward women was an affirmation that he liked you, that you must be doing something right,” Boylan wrote in a blog post, alleging that Cuomo subjected her to an unwanted kiss and inappropriate comments. “He used intimidation to silence his critics. And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences,” Boylan said. 

Cuomo’s campaign recently paid to run a series of ads on Facebook in a bid to rebrand his 2021 resignation in the wake of multiple sexual harassment allegations as “#MeToo excess, not success.”

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