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Cuomo says ‘harassment is not making someone feel uncomfortable’ – at odds with New York law he signed

·4-min read
 (AP)
(AP)

Facing investigations over allegations of sexual harassment, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a reporter on Thursday that “harassment is not making someone feel uncomfortable”, a stance inconsistent with state law and sweeping legislation he signed into law in 2019.

After allegations against the governor became public earlier this year, he said in a statement in February that he “never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm”.

“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” he said.

On Thursday, City & State reporter Rebecca Lewis asked the governor how his comments square with state law defining harassment.

Mr Cuomo responded: “Harassment is not making someone feel uncomfortable. That is not harassment. If I just made you feel uncomfortable, that is not harassment. That’s you feeling uncomfortable.”

Debra Katz, an attorney for Cuomo accuser and former aide Charlotte Bennett, said his comments were “jaw dropping” and “truly alarming.”

“Gov Cuomo continues to show an alarming degree of ignorance about what constitutes sexual harassment,” she said. “The law is very clear on this … There is no grey area here.”

In 2019, the governor signed workplace harassment reform into law, defining that conduct need not be “severe or pervasive” to be legally actionable, among other measures that strengthened existing state laws about workplace harassment. State law provides that harassment encompasses unwanted advances and sexually explicit or discriminatory remarks that could “cause the recipient discomfort or humiliation.”

“By ending the absurd legal standard that sexual harassment in the workplace needs to be ‘severe or pervasive’ and making it easier for workplace sexual harassment claims to be brought forward, we are sending a strong message that time is up on sexual harassment in the workplace and setting the standard of equality for women,” Mr Cuomo said in a 2019 statement.

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The Sexual Harassment Working Group, formed by a group of former state legislative staff members who have urged Mr Cuomo to resign, said that the governor’s “self-delusion reached impressive new heights.”

“Our response is very simple: just because you believe you can’t make anyone ‘feel’ harassed by your actions, doesn’t make it legally true,” the group said in a statement. “If the governor tried that before a judge he’d get laughed out of court.”

State Attorney General Letitia James and the State Assemble’s Judiciary Committee are pursuing parallel investigations, and a majority of New York’s congressional delegation – including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer – have urged him to step down.

The governor has denied wrongdoing and rejected calls to resign.

The Independent has requested comment from the governor’s office.

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