Cuomo Created ‘Sexually Hostile’ Workplace, Says Justice Department

The Department of Justice concluded that former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and his executive staff subjected female employees to a “sexually hostile work environment,” and then retaliated against several who complained, according to a settlement announced on Friday.

The findings appear to largely substantiate the investigation by the New York attorney general, Letitia James, who concluded that Mr. Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women, amid a culture of fear and intimidation. Mr. Cuomo, who denied having sexually harassed anyone, resigned in August 2021, shortly after the release of Ms. James’s report.

Since his departure, Mr. Cuomo has engaged in a multipronged campaign to discredit the report and Ms. James as being politically motivated, and has been slowly maneuvering toward re-entering political life.

But Mr. Cuomo’s efforts may be sharply compromised by the Justice Department’s investigation, which determined that he repeatedly subjected women who worked for him to unwelcome sexual contact, comments and looks, and gave preferential treatment to some women based on their physical appearance.

In its findings, the Justice Department reported that at least 13 female state employees had been subjected to Mr. Cuomo’s behavior — two more than were cited in Ms. James’s report. The identities of the women and the nature of their complaints were not disclosed.

Investigators also found that Executive Chamber staff systemically enabled this conduct, and in four cases, senior staff retaliated against women who accused Mr. Cuomo of harassment. The Executive Chamber didn’t have an adequate process for handling complaints of misconduct, according to the report.

The Justice Department characterized the chamber’s response as being “designed only to protect Cuomo from further accusations, rather than to protect employees from sexual harassment.”

A person briefed on the Justice Department’s process said the investigation included a review of the attorney general’s report and public statements, as well as new interviews that turned up new victims.

Rita Glavin, a lawyer for Mr. Cuomo questioned the comprehensiveness of the Justice Department’s investigation, given that Mr. Cuomo and several other witnesses had not been contacted.

“This is nothing more than a political settlement with no investigation,” Ms. Glavin said, adding: “Governor Cuomo did not sexually harass anyone.”

Debra Katz, a lawyer representing Charlotte Bennett, one of the first aides to accuse the governor of sexual harassment, said that Mr. Cuomo’s defense strained credulity.

“Apparently Governor Cuomo’s lawyer is now suggesting that the U.S. Department of Justice has a political agenda against the former governor,” Ms. Katz said. “This is nonsense.” She added that it was time for Mr. Cuomo to stop blaming others and apologize.

The Justice Department’s findings were included in a settlement it reached with the administration of Gov. Kathy Hochul, who succeeded Mr. Cuomo.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Hochul administration has initiated a series of reforms aimed at preventing future misconduct, which include new avenues of external reporting and investigation, the addition of more people to the chamber’s new human resources department, and the removal of employees who were identified as having enabled Mr. Cuomo’s misconduct.

Ms. Hochul said in a statement that she was pleased the Justice Department had acknowledged her administration’s efforts, adding: “The moment I took office, I knew I needed to root out the culture of harassment that had previously plagued the Executive Chamber and implement strong policies to promote a safe workplace for all employees, and took immediate action to do so.”

Last week, Mr. Cuomo filed a lawsuit seeking to compel Ms. James’s office to release investigative materials that he has claimed will vindicate him. He has also aggressively defended himself against civil suits from Ms. Bennett and other women with sexual harassment claims, a legal effort that, under New York law, is funded by taxpayers.

And though he has been out of office for more than two years, Mr. Cuomo has never slipped far from public view: Less than a year after his resignation, he began appearing at Black churches, long considered a trusted Democratic source of support.

Six months later, he began a podcast that allowed him to opine on issues of national political strategy. His name has increasingly arisen among political insiders as a contender for marquee races across the state, from senator to mayor of New York City — sometimes after the release of mysteriously funded polls about his popularity.

The leader of the State Democratic Party, Jay Jacobs, said the report could complicate an attempted Cuomo comeback, though it would be up to voters to decide whether it should preclude him from office.

“It’s certainly not a plus,” said Mr. Jacobs, who, in 2021, had encouraged Mr. Cuomo to resign. “If he were ever to choose to run for something, he’ll have to address it with the voters.”

Mr. Cuomo is not accused of criminal wrongdoing; an earlier case, in which he was charged with groping a former executive staff member, Brittany Commisso, was dropped after the Albany County district attorney found that there was not sufficient evidence to proceed. District attorneys in Westchester, Nassau, Manhattan and Oswego Counties also investigated the conduct in Ms. James’s report, but chose not to pursue charges against the former governor.

In November, Ms. Commisso noted her intent to sue Mr. Cuomo and the State of New York in civil court. That case, first reported by The Times Union, also includes an accusation that Ms. Hochul retaliated against her by reassigning her not long after Mr. Cuomo’s resignation.

“We do not agree with the characterization that the Hochul administration took care of the matter properly with respect to Brittany Commisso,” Ms. Commisso lawyer, Brian Premo, said in an interview on Friday. “Quite to the contrary.”

Avi Small, a spokesman for the Hochul administration, called the claims of retaliation “unfounded and inaccurate,” saying that the governor had taken numerous steps to improve the chamber’s human resources effort.

Other women that Mr. Cuomo has been accused of harassing were more optimistic about the settlement.

Mariann Wang, a lawyer who represents Alyssa McGrath and Virginia Limmiatis, said in a statement: “We hope these measures have real impact and prevent the kind of repeated abuse of power that resulted in so much harm to so many women.”

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