Proposal Would Protect Officials’ Staff From Harassment

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ALBANY — New York state would explicitly protect personal staffers of elected officials and judges from harassment under a new bill submitted by two Democrats.

Democratic state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, a sponsor, said the bill closes a loophole that has led to the dismissal of lawsuits claiming elected officials harassed personal aides. At least two such lawsuits ended up being settled out of court.

Personal staffers receive state paychecks and follow employment rules. But lawyers for the Assembly and some state agencies have argued those workers don’t have protection against sexual harassment under federal antidiscrimination law. The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 excludes personal staff.

“When those employees go to use the courts to vindicate their civil rights in those cases, the state turns around and says, ’Sorry you don’t actually qualify as a state employee under the Civil Rights Act,” said Gounardes. “That leaves these employees in limbo, because then they have no avenue to seek redress.”

New York state “paid our salaries, provided our benefits, and set the rules for our employment, and yet when we experienced workplace harassment and sought justice, the legislature was able to argue that as the personal staff of elected officials we were not considered NYS employees under the law,” said the Sexual Harassment Working Group, an organization of onetime legislative staffers who faced harassment from their former bosses.

The bill would clarify the staffer’s employer is the state of New York.

New state laws require that employers have workplace sexual harassment policies, employee training and a clear complaint and investigation process. New York also now defines harassment as any conduct subjecting someone to inferior treatment.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s spokesman said he’d have to review the bill but said he supports bolstering the state’s strong anti-harassment law. A spokesman for Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said his office will review the legislation.


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