Cuomo’s apology could be a confession under New York sexual harassment law

Crain's New York Business - Cara Eisenpress
March 8, 2021

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s apology could be considered a confession under a law the governor signed in 2019, according to an employment lawyer.  

The new harassment rules increased the statute of limitations for victims from one to three years, eliminating the need for incidents to be reported internally first, and changing the standard for harassment from “severe and pervasive” to any treatment that subjects “an individual to inferior terms” or what a reasonable victim  would deem more than “petty slights or trivial inconveniences.”  

Eighteen months later, three women have come forward to say the governor sexually harassed them in the office and at a social event. Advocates fighting sexual harassment in the workplace say more needs to be done to eradicate such behavior.

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In New York state, 31% of women say that they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, according to a survey conducted by the Cornell Survey Research Institute in 2018. Cuomo issued a statement on Feb. 28, which denied inappropriate touching. He brushed off his remarks to the women as teasing. On March 3 he apologized.  

“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo said. “It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it.”

That could meet the standard for harassment under New York state law.  

“It’s almost admitting to the exact behavior the law prohibits,” said Nina Frank, an associate at Outten & Golden who represents employees.  

Three pieces of legislation the April 2018 state budget, the 2019 state law and the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act from 2018 now guide how New York City employers comply with harassment requirements. The change in standards has been a crucial update.

“The new standard of inferior terms is more in keeping with what’s happening in a workplace,” said Frank, because it prevents people thinking that if the abuse isn’t on the same level as what Harvey Weinstein did, then it’s not sexual harassment.

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