New York, NY –– Today, whistleblower and former aide Charlotte Bennett filed a federal lawsuit against former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. Bennett, a former Briefer, Senior Briefer, and Executive Assistant to Cuomo, also named three of the former Governor’s top aides, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, Chief of Staff Jill DesRosiers, and Special Counsel Judith Mogul. She is the first former aide to file a federal suit against Governor Cuomo following his resignation from office.
“My career as a public servant was abruptly cut short because of Governor Cuomo’s and his top aides’ sexual harassment and retaliation against me after I complained about Governor Cuomo’s misconduct. They must all be held accountable for their actions,” said Charlotte Bennett.
“The facts in this case are clear. Attorney General Letitia James found that former Governor Cuomo created a sexually hostile work environment that hurt women, like Ms. Bennett, who worked for him. Investigators substantiated Charlotte Bennett’s allegations and found them to be part of a pattern and practice of sexually harassing behavior by Cuomo,” said Debra S. Katz, an attorney representing Bennett in the lawsuit. “Those around him enabled him, placated him, and covered up his egregious behavior, managing out women who complained about his misconduct rather than insisting that their complaints be investigated as the law required. He and his aides repeatedly violated the law, and they must be held accountable.”
“Throughout her employment as Defendant Cuomo’s Executive Assistant, the then-Governor subjected [Bennett] to sexualized comments about her appearance, assigned her humiliating and demeaning tasks, and, beginning in early June 2020, subjected her to invasive and unwanted questions about her personal life, romantic and sexual relationships, and history as a survivor of sexual assault,” the complaint reads. “He told her he was ‘lonely,’ wanted a girlfriend who lived in Albany, and was willing to date someone over the age of 21 years old. At that time, and as Defendant Cuomo knew, Ms. Bennett was 25 years old and living with other Executive Chamber staffers in an Albany hotel. Defendant Cuomo’s comments and behavior were unwelcome and Ms. Bennett reasonably perceived them to constitute a sexual advance.”
After promptly reporting Cuomo’s sexual harassment to Chief of Staff DesRosiers, neither DesRosiers, Special Counsel Mogul, or Secretary DeRosa, all of whom were notified of Bennett’s sexual harassment claim, referred the complaint to the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER) for investigation, as required by the Executive Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Handbook. Instead, DesRosiers transferred Bennett to an inferior position on the health policy team.
Bennett experienced near-debilitating anxiety, depression, and began suffering from a chronic neurological disorder directly resulting from then-Governor Cuomo’s conduct, forcing her to take medical leave to address her declining health. Bennett ultimately was forced to resign from her employment because her work environment had become intolerable.
Bennett made her allegations public following former Executive Chamber staffer Lindsey Boylan publishing her own account of sexual harassment by then-Governor Cuomo. Less than two weeks later, New York Attorney General Letitia James commenced an investigation into the allegations. As Bennett cooperated with Attorney General James’s investigation, then-Governor Cuomo sought to undermine Bennett’s credibility, using his media platform to publicly smear her. He continues to attack and try to discredit Bennett and other courageous women who came forward to report his misconduct.
“The Report [of Investigation into Allegations of Sexual Harassment by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo] concluded that Defendant Cuomo had created a hostile work environment and notably that he had subjected Ms. Bennett to sexual harassment, in violation of state and federal civil rights,” the complaint reads. “Defendant Cuomo, personally, and through his attorney, Rita Glavin, continue to retaliate against Ms. Bennett by smearing her reputation and otherwise attempting to discredit her during press conferences and through dissemination of material on the former Governor’s campaign website. In carrying out this smear campaign, Governor Cuomo and his aides enlisted the assistance of his brother, Chris Cuomo, then an anchor on CNN, and others.”
The suit was filed on September 14, 2022 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.