REPOST ARTICLE SOURCE:
ALBANY — The state paid out at least $5 million to settle sexual harassment cases from 2008 to 2010, according to newly released records provided by the New York attorney general’s office under the Freedom of Information Law.
Five of the 11 cases involved a single agency, the State Department of Corrections and Community Services, and three involved employees of public universities. The largest settlement, nearly $1.8 million, came in January 2009 after the state settled a nearly nine-year-old case involving allegations brought by Lisa Borrello, a cook at the Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility. Ms. Borrello alleged that a supervisor sexually harassed and physically threatened her, and gave favorable treatment to male employees.
Scrutiny of the state’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against public officials and workers has increased since the Assembly acknowledged it had used more than $100,000 in public money to settle two accusations against a prominent Brooklyn Democratic assemblyman, Vito J. Lopez.
The attorney general’s office said the records it produced this week, all reflecting cases from the years when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, was attorney general, represented only a portion of the harassment settlements paid by the state; the office said it was continuing to review its files for other records.
The Lopez settlement has been controversial in part because it included confidentiality language intended to keep the allegations secret. None of the settlements for which records were released this week included confidentiality provisions, suggesting that the use of such language is not common in government settlements, although the state previously released documents indicating that in one racial bias case, Mr. Cuomo’s office had approved a settlement with confidentiality language.
The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, has said the confidentiality language in the Lopez settlement was a mistake, and two separate investigations are now examining the matter — one by the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, and another by a New York City district attorney.
The fact that a large employer like New York State is paying out such settlements is not unusual.
Most of the cases for which records were released on Thursday involved state employees making complaints about other public workers. But in some cases, the alleged victims were not public employees. In one case, Stephen Lewis, an inmate at Arthur Kill Correctional Facility, sued in June 2008 after he said he was sexually assaulted by a guard. Mr. Lewis initially sought $7 million; two years later, the state settled for $300,000.
In both the Borrello and Lewis settlements, the state agreed to pay the complainants’ legal fees.
Two other cases involved women bringing claims against an official at the corrections department, Michael Cobb. Both cases were settled in March 2008, for a total of about $1 million. Mr. Cobb contributed $1,000 toward the settlement.