Andrew Cuomo

New DOJ settlement concludes Cuomo harassed state employees

Federal prosecutors released an agreement with the executive chamber based on its investigation into claims of harassment and retaliation against the former governor

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed staff in the Executive Chamber, a federal investigation found.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed staff in the Executive Chamber, a federal investigation found. SPENCER PLATT/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The New York executive chamber formally settled with the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday after a federal investigation found that former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had sexually harassed 13 current and former state employees.

According to the settlement, Cuomo “repeatedly subjected these female employees to unwelcome, non-consensual sexual contact; ogling; unwelcome sexual comments; gender-based nicknames; comments on their physical appearances; and/or preferential treatment based on their physical appearances.” Federal prosecutors concluded that the executive chamber “failed to effectively remediate the harassment on a systemic level,” and that senior Cuomo staff were aware of the behavior and retaliated against some of the women involved.

As part of the settlement, the executive chamber agreed to implement several reforms – some of which Gov. Kathy Hochul had previously undertaken. Those included removing staff allegedly involved with the pattern of harassment, creating a human resources department and creating a workplace sexual harassment hotline. The agreement also listed further actions the executive chamber must take under the settlement. They include expanding the new HR department, separate training for supervisors and developing an alternative process to file complaints against senior officials.

“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,” Hochul said in a statement. “I am pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice has acknowledged the significance of those efforts, and look forward to partnering with them as we continue to build upon that success.”

The settlement resolves claims brought by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York that the executive chamber had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination. Although the federal investigation concluded that Cuomo engaged in illegal sexual harassment, the former governor was not a party to the settlement. 

Cuomo’s attorney Rita Glavin said that Cuomo has never harassed anyone. She claimed that the DOJ had simply relied on a report from state Attorney General Letitia James that concluded Cuomo harassed multiple women rather than conducting its own investigation into the truth of the allegations. “At no point did (the) DOJ even contact Governor Cuomo concerning these matters,” Glavin said in a statement. “This is nothing more than a political settlement with no investigation.” She added that the state is currently arguing against allegations of harassment made by two women who have gone to court. 

Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi also suggested that the settlement was politically motivated. “This isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, and it’s ironic that Gov. Hochul, who herself is being accused of retaliation, signed off on it,” Azzopardi wrote. As part of the agreement, the executive chamber and the state did not admit liability, and a provision of the settlement states it “shall not constitute an adjudication or finding on the merits of the case.”

James’ office, however, welcomed the new settlement as further evidence of the veracity of its own investigation. “Today, the U.S. Department of Justice found that Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and created a hostile work environment, confirming what the New York Attorney General’s independent report found over two years ago,” a spokesperson for the attorney’s general said in a statement. “Andrew Cuomo can continue to deny the truth and attack these women, but the facts do not lie.” The report from James’ office had originally concluded Cuomo harassed 11 women.

Asked for additional information about the difference between James’ report and the Department of Justice conclusion, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York said that the settlement agreement is the only public document available from the investigation. It contains few specifics about Cuomo’s alleged behavior or details about how the investigation was conducted.

Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo administration official who was the first woman to publicly accuse him of harassment, reacted to the new settlement on social media. “These things happened. These things happened to me and other women. And then a huge bureaucracy tried to bury us for telling the truth, “ Boylan wrote on X. “Never again will I ever let anyone or any system harm me and other women that way.”

An attorney for Charlotte Bennett, who accused Cuomo of harassment and is now suing the former governor, said she is “gratified” with the settlement and the findings of the U.S. Department of Justice. “The DOJ’s independent investigation and subsequent settlement agreement with the Executive Chamber eviscerates Mr. Cuomo’s repeated refrain that the Attorney General’s findings were politically motivated,” Debra Katz said in a statement. “They obviously were not.” Katz added that she hopes the settlement will “lead to lasting change” to prevent future instances of harassment.

The Justice Department investigation began in August 2021, after Cuomo was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct, and James released a report finding that the allegations were credible. Cuomo resigned in the same month after facing mounting pressure to step down amid the allegations.

The former governor, who has denied any wrongdoing, is still fighting civil lawsuits brought by an unnamed state trooper and former Cuomo aides Bennett and Brittany Commisso.

Advocates for victims of harassment applauded the settlement and its findings. “Like the AG's independent investigation, this Justice Department report spells out what we've known all along: Cuomo is a serial sexual harasser, enabled and protected by a core group of senior staffers,” said Erica Vladimer, co-founder of the Sexual Harassment Working Group. She advocated for the establishment of a “truly independent investigative body” to handle harassment claims in the executive chamber as well, rather than implementing “confusing systems that will only make it harder for employees to report their experiences.”