Lurid Complaint Against New York Politicos
By ADAM KLASFELD
MANHATTAN (CN) – Assemblyman Vito Lopez tried to pimp out a young staff member to a man on the governor’s staff to get a housing bill passed, two women claim in a lawsuit against Lopez and Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver.
In their federal complaint, Victoria Burhans and Chloe Rivera claim that Lopez sexually harassed them and that Silver, the longtime Speaker of the New York House, failed to report their complaints to the Ethics Committee.
Both defendants are Democrats. Lopez resigned in May from the seat he had held since 1984 – 14 terms.
Silver has been Speaker of the Assembly since 1994; he is in his 19th term, having first been elected to the Assembly in 1976.
Burhans, 27, claims that Lopez sexually harassed more than a dozen times in two months, from May to July 2012.
For instance, Lopez asked if she would like to stay over at the governor’s Executive Mansion, she says.
“Burhans replied that she would enjoy going on a tour of the Mansion,” the complaint states. “Lopez responded that she would have to stay overnight, which he referred to as a ‘Lincoln bedroom’ situation.”
Lopez told Burhans she would have to be “naked” during the visit and that he would set her up with “a senior member of the governor’s administration and that she should have sex with this man” to help get a housing bill passed, she says in the complaint.
In the same paragraph, which describes 13 incidents of sexual harassment, Burhans claims that on a drive to Atlantic City, Lopez “pushed his hand between Burhans’ legs,” the complaint states.
Before another trip to Atlantic City, “Lopez told Burhans that she should not wear a bra on the trip, which, as stated above, was a frequent obsession of his,” the complaint states. “When Burhans defied Lopez’s instruction and wore a bra, Lopez became very angry and refused to talk to Burhans for hours.”
Rivera, 25, claims that Lopez asked her to accompany him on a weeklong trip to Quebec, a trip with “no work purpose,” which she refused.
Both women say Lopez told them to wear miniskirts and show up to work without bras.
They claim that Silver knew about and shared the blame for Lopez’s conduct.
“Lopez would not have been able to abuse plaintiffs without the assistance of the Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver,” the complaint states. “Months before Lopez hired plaintiffs, Silver and his senior staff learned that at least two other women on Lopez’s staff had credibly complained that Lopez had sexually harassed them and other employees. Rather than refer those initial two complaints to the Assembly’s Committee on Ethics and Guidance (‘Ethics Committee’), as was required by the Assembly’s sexual harassment policies, Silver and Lopez instead orchestrated a confidential payment to Lopez’s previous victims and conditioned that payment on the victims remaining silent. Silver and his staff made no attempt to investigate Lopez or to try to protect the other women on Lopez’s staff. As a result of Silver’s complete failure to meet his obligations as the most senior official in the Assembly, Lopez continued his deplorable conduct and sexually harassed Burhans and Rivera.”
The stonewalling ended after Lopez suggested that Rivera pick up pointers about how to “dress sexy” from a 14-year-old intern working in his Brooklyn office, according to the complaint.
“When Rivera relayed these and other circumstances to her mother, Rivera’s mother became concerned about the welfare of Rivera and the intern and reported this to the police, who visited Lopez’s Brooklyn office,” the complaint states.
Both women say they reported their harassment and left Lopez’s office within 24 hours of that police visit, on July 16, 2012.
While they both remained Assembly employees, each says they suffered a “significant diminution in her job duties and responsibilities.”
A month later, the Ethics Committee unanimously concluded that Lopez breached the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy, the complaint states.
The committee found, among other things: “‘That [plaintiffs’] allegations of unwelcome verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature were credible …
“That there was pervasive unwelcome verbal conduct by Assemblymember Vito Lopez toward both [plaintiffs] from early June 2012 until the time they made complaints of sexual harassment in mid-July 2012, including repeated comments about their physical appearance, their bodies, their attire, and their private relationships …
“That [plaintiffs’] perception that such conduct created an intimidating, hostile and offensive working environment was reasonable,” according to the complaint.
The Ethics Committee recommended sanctions that Silver implemented and publicly announced only after pressing the women’s attorney to enforce “confidentiality obligations under the parties’ settlement,” according to the complaint.
The women seek punitive damages and injunctive relief for sexual harassment.
They are represented by Kevin Mintzer.