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Sexual Harassment: A Cuomo Debriefing

“Just 25 years ago, sexual harassment was considered a radical-fringe by-product of feminist theory. Today it’s embedded in multiple Supreme Court decisions, thousands of corporate policies and a host of lower-court cases that have spread like kudzu across the legal landscape.” (Waxman, 2018) 

We often talk about what defines sexual harassment, but rarely do we have such a public case to demonstrate the concept. Here is a walk through what we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks with Andrew Cuomo:

 

Hostile Work Environment

The inappropriate conversations and grooming behavior create a hostile work environment. The unwelcome and non-consensual touching also created a hostile work environment (see Al Jazeera, 2021). Imagine a powerful political figure sexualizing you, making inappropriate comments to you, even touching you sexually, then asking you to complete professional tasks. No one should ever have to work in that environment; most people cannot. The hostile work environment becomes especially harmful because a person of power uses that power to abuse others in the workplace.

The New York Office of the Attorney General’s report into Cuomo’s sexual harassment contained three main findings: 

  1. “Direct contact with an intimate body part constitutes one of the most severe forms of sexual harassment” (p. 147). Cuomo directly touched women inappropriately, including women who worked for the state and some who did not.
  2. The Governor used inappropriate sexual language with numerous women. “The law is clear that these types of sexually suggestive comments—if made as a ‘joke’ or otherwise—particularly when part of a pattern of comments and conduct, as it was with the Governor, constitute unlawful sexual harassment” (p. 147).
  3. The Governor’s less overt language and so-called “traditional” behavior was also offensive and created a hostile work environment. 

“[E]ven the Governor’s less overtly sexual comments that were nonetheless gender-based, also created a hostile work environment. Although the Governor (and certain of his senior staff) sought to downplay what the evidence has revealed as frequent gender-based comments and conduct by the Governor as simply ‘old fashioned’ or ‘cultural,’ neither explains nor justifies his behavior, nor makes it non-harassing. For example, referring to female staff as ‘honey,’ ‘sweetheart,’ and ‘darling,’ kissing staff members on the forehead and some of the senior staff on the lips, holding them tightly around the waist for pictures and other occasions, allowing senior staff members to sit on his lap at official functions, and lying down with his head on the lap of staff members who are women we find, based on our interviews with numerous Executive Chamber employees, did in fact create a hostile work environment for many staff who were women. As a matter of law, claiming that the gender-based behavior is simply a function of being oldfashioned or culturally more affectionate is not a defense to sexual harassment.” (p. 148)

Quid Pro Quo

Quid Pro Quo, however, is a whole different ball game (pun intended). Most of us are more familiar with the political quid pro quo engaged in by the former president, i.e. withholding military aid for a political favor (see Torres, 2021). Sexual harassment quid pro quo, or something for something, involves a person in power (a manager, supervisor, or other authority in the workplace) offering to give an employee something, such as a raise or promotion, in exchange for some sort of sexual favor. Cuomo, as of this publication date, has not been accused of quid pro quo related to sexual harassment. 

 

Compliance ≠ Consent

One of the biggest lessons to learn from the Cuomo story is that compliance is never consent. Women who worked below him endured his inappropriate comments and touching, which is not the same as consenting. Consent is a positive affirmation that the behavior is welcomed. In Illinois, we require affirmative consent for sexual activity.

 

Not a Generational Difference

Cuomo both minimized and distanced himself from the wrongdoing (see Leopold, 2021). He described that there was a “generational difference” and that “the rules have changed” (Wagner et al, 2021). Inappropriately touching women and using sexualized language in the workplace have never been good behavior. Women complied over the years to keep their jobs. Women are speaking up more now and more people are listening to them. No one changed the rules; no one ever told Cuomo’s generation they could grab women in the workplace. 

Sexual harassment may have been considered a fringe area of feminist theory 25 years ago, but only because patriarchy was the norm. Cuomo chose to live in his patriarchal world of sexual harassment, but that was a choice. No one changed the rules on him. He just realized that he hasn’t been listening.

Retaliation

Cuomo reportedly attempted to retaliate when women came forward about the sexual harassment (see James, 2021). Retaliation is illegal. Anyone facing workplace sexual harassment has the right to report the misconduct without retaliation. 

Reporting

Both creating a hostile work environment and quid pro quo are illegal. You are protected by state and federal laws. 


If you or someone you know has a question about sexual harassment, please contact your local women’s center, rape crisis center, or sexual abuse center. If you live in Lake County or Northern Cook County in Illinois, feel free to contact ZCenter with any questions about your rights or reporting. We also offer a Workplace Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, now required for all state employers to offer. Contact us for any questions about scheduling or pricing.

Most of all, take care of yourself and your coworkers. We all deserve a safe and non-hostile work environment.

 


Written by Kristin D. Jones, PhD, EdM, Outreach Supervisor. 

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

Al Jazeera Staff. (2021). Andrew Cuomo’s sexual harassment scandal: What we know. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/9/andrew-cuomo-sexual-harassment-scandal-what-we-know-so-far

James, Leticia. (2021). Report of Investigation into Allegations of Sexual Harassment by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. State of New York Office of the Attorney General. https://ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/2021.08.03_nyag_-_investigative_report.pdf

Leopold, L. (2021). New York Gov. Cuomo is the textbook example of how not to apologize. Theconversation.com https://theconversation.com/new-york-gov-cuomo-is-the-textbook-example-of-how-not-to-apologize-156474

Torres, N. (2021). Timeline of President Trump’s Quid Pro Quo. Congresswoman Norma Torres. https://torres.house.gov/timeline-president-trump-s-quid-pro-quo

Wagner, M., M. Mahtani, M. Macaya, M. Hayes, & V. Rocha. (2021). New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Resigns. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/politics/live-news/andrew-cuomo-investigation-08-10-21/index.html

Waxman, O.B. (2018). The Surprising Consequences of the Supreme Court Cases That Changed Sexual Harassment Law 20 Years Ago. Time.com. https://time.com/5319966/sexual-harassment-scotus-anniversary/

 

Meet Our Teams

This week, in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), we highlight the amazing work of our teams at ZCenter. Each team plays a crucial role in supporting survivors and ending sexual violence.


Counseling 

Saira Khan, Clinical Supervisor

ZCenter’s mission is to validate, believe and empower all survivors of sexual violence. We believe healing from sexual trauma is possible. Our trained counselors create a safe space for our clients, where they can share their experience, build resiliency, and regain control over their lives. ZCenter offers free counseling in Lake County and Northern Cook County.

 

 

 


Outreach & Advocacy

Every single day, every 73 seconds, an American is subjected to sexual violence. Part of our mission is to work with those that have been violated, but the role of the Outreach and Advocacy Team is to promote awareness and educate the community around sexual health, safety, and rights. Through prevention education, professional development, volunteerism, and social justice 

Christine Berry, Director of Services

activism, the Outreach Team reaches thousands of people annually to spread information and awareness. During this difficult time, ZCenter’s community outreach has evolved to include a broad digital presence, beginning a podcast (73 Seconds) and a blog, showcasing how important it is to end sexual violence and dismantle the systems responsible for sustaining it. 

 

 


Development

Development means different things in various industries. For ZCenter, it means fundraising. But more than that it means bringing awareness to all of the needs at 

Anna Lehner, Director of Development

ZCenter, to ensure we have the financial resources available to keep our services strong, necessary supplies, and support for our growing Outreach Programs. Fundraising comes from corporate donations, individual contributions, monthly giving (check out our Superhero Campaign!), and foundations through grant applications. 

 

 

 


Administration

Hi, my name is JoEllen and I am part of the Amazing Administration Team at ZCenter! Our team plays an important behind the scenes role in contributing to the comprehensive services provided to survivors of sexual violence by the ZCenter Staff, Interns and Volunteers.

JoEllen Erdman, Compliance Manager

Office management, budget and finance, data entry and stats management, government reporting and compliance, payroll and record keeping are all successfully orchestrated by the team of Helen Williamson-Administrative Specialist, Jessica Gonzalez-Financial & Facilities Assistant, JoEllen Erdman-Compliance Manager, and our fearless leader, Cindy Harris-Director of Administration. We take great pride in making sure that the office runs smoothly and the employees get paid so they can put all of their energies into providing the best trauma-informed care to the survivors we work with every day!

 


All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

ZPN Lunch and Learn: Title IX in Grades K-12

Presenter:  Amy Kosanovich Dickerson, J.D.      Amy is a partner at Franczek Radelet P.C., where she has been an attorney in the firm’s Education Practice Group since 2008. Amy frequently advises schools, including K-12 and higher education institutions, on Title IX -related matters, including matters related to complaint investigation, staff and student training and programming, school official and Title IX coordinator responsibilities, and policies and procedures. Amy is a frequent speaker on Title IX and has provided numerous trainings to school officials, investigators, and Title IX coordinators. Amy also represents school districts and higher education institutions in Title IX-related litigation and administrative proceedings before the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and the Illinois Department of Human Rights. What to expect

  • Overview of school district responsibilities under Title IX
  • Best practices for responding to complaints under Title IX
  • Practical tips for Title IX Coordinators and school officials for complying with Title IX
Cost ZPN Member +  District Administrator –  Free for this event! Non – ZPN Member and District Administrator –  $50 (for two), $25 (for one) Join ZPN 1 membership $50 per year- select the join ZPN option when you register for this event.]]>

ZPN Lunch and Learn: Title IX in Grades K-12

Presenter:  Amy Kosanovich Dickerson, J.D.      Amy is a partner at Franczek Radelet P.C., where she has been an attorney in the firm’s Education Practice Group since 2008. Amy frequently advises schools, including K-12 and higher education institutions, on Title IX -related matters, including matters related to complaint investigation, staff and student training and programming, school official and Title IX coordinator responsibilities, and policies and procedures. Amy is a frequent speaker on Title IX and has provided numerous trainings to school officials, investigators, and Title IX coordinators. Amy also represents school districts and higher education institutions in Title IX-related litigation and administrative proceedings before the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and the Illinois Department of Human Rights. What to expect

  • Overview of school district responsibilities under Title IX
  • Best practices for responding to complaints under Title IX
  • Practical tips for Title IX Coordinators and school officials for complying with Title IX
Cost ZPN Member +  District Administrator –  Free for this event! Non – ZPN Member and District Administrator –  $50 (for two), $25 (for one) Join ZPN 1 membership $50 per year- select the join ZPN option when you register for this event.]]>

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