A sexual harassment scandal is growing in Brooklyn. Powerful state assemblyman Vito Lopez has been accused by his own party of creating a “hostile workplace” after two female employees accused him of kissing them and shoving his hand up one woman’s skirt. Incredibly, he also required both women to write him notes about “how much they loved their jobs and they cared about” him, which then critiqued for not being enthusiastic enough. One source tells the New York Post that Lopez was known around Albany for hiring “very attractive young women with legs longer than mine.” So far, his transgressions have cost tax-payers $103,000 to pay off his accusers to protect the Assembly from embarrassment.
On Friday, the state Assembly censured Lopez, who is 71, after an internal investigation found evidence that the sexual harassment allegations made by the women in his office were valid. He is banned from employing anyone under age 21, lost his position of chairman of the Committee on Housing, and must undergo sexual harassment training.
Lopez is not a first-time offender. The New York Times reported this weekend that the speaker of the assembly, Sheldon Silver, had also “quietly settled” at least one other recent sexual harassment allegation against Lopez in the past. Lawyer Gloria Allred represented the employee or employees — the number of women involved hasn’t been made public yet — involved in these earlier cases. Silver, who is effectively Lopez’s boss, apparently paid the women off with money that included $103,080 in public funds, and didn’t refer the case to the Assembly’s ethics committee.
After announcing his latest punishment of Lopez, Silver released a statement saying “The Assembly has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment and we are committed to ensuring a safe and respectful workplace for all our employees.” But as the Times reports, Silver has a long history of moving slowly in response to allegations of sexual misconduct on his watch. In 2003, one of his own aides was accused of rape. The aide had previously been accused of sexual assault, but the investigation was closed without punishment. In 2006, 2007, and 2008, other Assembly members were involved in scandals involving current or former interns.
Silver released a public letter to Lopez on Friday that spelled out some of the recent charges in graphic detail.:
There were multiple incidents of unwelcome physical conduct toward one complainant, wherein you put your hand on her leg, she removed your hand, and you then put your hand between her upper thighs, putting your hand as far up between her legs as you could go.
The Times reports that one Lopez is said to have assaulted one of the women after he after he required her to take a trip to Atlantic City with him. “She struggled to fend you off before you stopped, and that on the drive back from Atlantic City you again put your hand between her legs,” Silver’s letter says.
Lopez himself released a statement yesterday in which he said, “The charges made against me are unfair and untrue. Never did I intentionally touch or attempt to kiss either of the complainants. I have never forced myself on anyone, nor would I.” Lopez says he has no plans to resign.