Sexual Harassment Lawsuits, Investigations Target State of New York, State Legislators, and Legislative Staffers

Matt H. Wade (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe issue of workplace sexual harassment has had a substantial impact on the New York State Assembly over the past two years. A legislator from the 143rd Assembly District, which includes part of the suburban Buffalo area, resigned his seat in early 2014 amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment by female staff members. He is now named as a defendant in at least seven lawsuits in state and federal court. The legislator elected to replace him now faces her own investigation by the Assembly ethics committee after a male staffer accused her of sexual harassment.

The more recent incident involves Assemblymember Angela Wozniak, who was first elected to the Assembly in November 2014. The Assembly Ethics Committee reportedly reviewed a complaint filed against her by her legislative director in August 2015, and it publicly announced that it was commencing an investigation the following month. The complainant, according to news reports, alleges that “he was coerced into a sexual relationship” by the assemblymember. The committee’s investigation appears to be ongoing, and it has made no further announcements regarding the case.

The 143rd District’s seat was vacant in 2014 because of the resignation of Dennis Gabryszak, who had held the office since 2007. Three former staffers first accused him of sexual harassment in December 2013, and by January 2014, the number had grown to seven. The Ethics Committee commenced an investigation into the allegations, but the assemblymember resigned on January 12, 2014, just before the Assembly was scheduled to begin its session.

A federal lawsuit filed in November 2014 names Assemblymember Gabryszak, the Speaker of the Assembly, the Assembly Chief of Staff, and the State of New York as defendants. Kennedy v. State of New York, et al., No. 1:14-cv-00990, am. complaint (W.D.N.Y., Apr. 27, 2015). The plaintiff is asserting claims directly against the assemblymember, as her employer and supervisor, for alleged acts of sexual harassment, including inappropriate sexual remarks and overtures. She also claims that the Speaker and the Chief of Staff “enabled, condoned, and allowed” the sexual harassment to take place. Id. at 2.

The lawsuit asserts causes of action for sex discrimination, in the forms of hostile work environment and sexual harassment, under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), N.Y. Exec. L. § 290 et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. It also alleges violations of the Equal Protection Clause. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Six lawsuits filed separately in Erie County Supreme Court name the same individuals, as well as the State Assembly and the state, as defendants. See, e.g. Campbell v. Gabryszak, et al., No. 813114/2014, complaint (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Erie Co., Nov. 13, 2014). Each lawsuit asserts 80 causes of action, including discrimination claims under the NYSHRL and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-101 et seq., and claims damages in excess of $433 million. The six plaintiffs collectively claim $2.6 billion in damages.

The sexual harassment lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent New York City employees, former employees, and job applicants in the greater area in claims for unlawful acts, such as sexual harassment, under federal, state, and city employment laws. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

More Blog Posts:

New York Legislation Addresses Sexual Harassment in Small Companies, Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers, New York Employment Attorney Blog, June 25, 2015

New York Assemblyman Resigns Amid Allegations of Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 23, 2013

Records Show that New York State Government Paid $5 Million to Settle Eleven Sexual Harassment Claims Between 2008 and 2010, Including Many in the Prison System, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 30, 2012

Photo credit: Matt H. Wade (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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