New York State

Bennett sues Cuomo over sexual harassment

Former state staffer Charlotte Bennett wants to take ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo to court over his alleged harassment when she worked for him.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo shown before his resignation from office.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo shown before his resignation from office. Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo who accused him of sexual harassment, has brought a lawsuit against him and his top aids in federal court. Hers is the second civil suit over sexual harassment Cuomo faces since he resigned in disgrace last year over this and other allegations. 

The 60-page lawsuit from Bennett, 27, alleges that Cuomo, along with top aides Melissa DeRosa, Jill DesRosiers and Judith Mogul, engaged in or enabled harassment, discrimination and retaliation while she worked in the Executive Chamber. Many of the claims Bennett made in the suit were already public thanks to first her decision to speak about the alleged harassment to the press and later as part of state Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation into Bennett’s and others allegations. Among other things, Bennett has said that Cuomo made inappropriate sexual advances towards her and frequently asked personal questions about her romantic life, relationship status and her past sexual assault. She said that DeRosa, DesRosiers and Mogul did nothing to address the alleged behavior even after she brought it to their attention, and in fact received a demotion afterwards. 

In addition to the sexual harassment, Bennett detailed numerous occasions of apparent discrimination based on gender when working for Cuomo between May 2019 and November 2020. Those included requiring her to learn the words to the traditional Irish folk song “Danny Boy,” and making her sing it in front of others as a form of “hazing” when she became his executive assistant. “Defendant Cuomo began singing the song and instructed Plaintiff to join in, which she felt she had no choice but to do,” the lawsuit reads. “After about 30 seconds, Plaintiff stopped singing and left the office, humiliated.” Bennett also said that Cuomo frequently would attempt to challenge her to a pushup competition after she said she weighlifts, later allegedly asking her to perform pushups in the office in front of him. According to the suit, Cuomo’s previous executive assistant, a man, had not been asked to do either.

Cuomo attorney Rita Glavin responded in a statement to the lawsuit by brushing it off. “The Governor 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,” Glavin said, suggesting that more favorable evidence will come to light thanks to this lawsuit. We’ll see them in court.” Bennett has requested a full jury trial and if granted, would result in a trial against Cuomo playing out in the public eye – but it could also complicate matters in terms of jury selection given the high-profile nature of the case. 

Glavin also pointed to an ethics complaint the ex-governor filed against James on Tuesday, in which Cuomo accuses James of violating attorney codes of conduct while her office investigated him. Cuomo said she mishandled the investigation and subsequent report by omitting evidence and testimony that would have contradicted Bennett and others as a means to mislead the public. A state committee within the judicial system tasked with disciplining lawyers will decide whether to pursue the complaint.

Bennett’s is the second federal lawsuit that Cuomo and DeRosa face from a victim of Cuomo’s alleged harassment. An unnamed state trooper who said that the former governor groped her sued the pair earlier this year. Both she and Bennett are seeking damages as part of the suits.

The new lawsuit is the latest fallout from the sexual harassment allegations that ultimately led to Cuomo’s resignation in August 2021. Although this and any future legal proceedings will occur in civil court, the ex-governor had at one point faced several criminal inquiries across the state where his alleged behavior may have constituted a form of assault. Cuomo almost faced charges in Albany County over his alleged groping of Brittany Commisso, but ultimately the district attorney did not bring any. District attorneys in other jurisdictions also decided against pursuing charges, but all agreed that they found the women who made the allegations credible. In New York, sexual harassment is a civil offense, and law enforcement generally does not bring the sort of minor charges Cuomo may have faced due to the difficulty to prove them compared to the consequences they would result in. 

The disgraced former governor has also been making apparent moves to rehabilitate his image, spending cash from his still large campaign chest to buy TV ads touting the decision not to charge him with any crimes, and more recently Facebook ads promoting an op-ed that framed his resignation as an example of the #MeToo movement going too far. Earlier this year, amid speculation he would mount a comeback bid for governor, Cuomo also spoke to a gathering of Black and Latino ministers in the Bronx during which he bemoaned “cancel culture” that forced him from office. But despite these moves, Cuomo has given no solid indication about whether he plans to make a political comeback to electoral politics.