Did New York City Hide Allegations of Sexual Harassment?

From the New York Times comes a bit of a bombshell: one of Mayor de Blasio’s top aides was accused of sexual harassment last year and quietly resigned. Neither the Mayor nor his team spoke publicly about the accusations at the time, which allowed the aide to find a new job without the cloud of a sexual harassment allegation hanging over his head.

But the story contained even more disturbing allegations. In at least three other situations, the city had released employees for sexual harassment but had kept quiet about the allegations so that the employees could find new jobs. When the new employer called for a reference check, the city said nothing about the allegations.

According to the report, the men who were dismissed had agreed to resign. In exchange, they requested that the city only provide what is called a neutral reference, basically confirming dates of employment and pay, but nothing else. Attorneys quoted in the article stated that these types of agreements are common as an incentive to get harassers to quit their job so that the employer can avoid a protracted lawsuit.

Seasonal Worker Offered Quid Pro Quo

The Times story went into more detail about one of the workers who had resigned because of sexual harassment. Jeffrey Blount was a parks supervisor who had threatened to fire a seasonal park cleaner unless she had sex with him. The woman participated in a welfare-to-work program and was afraid to lose her job. When she requested a transfer, Blount followed her and continued to pressure her for sex. Ultimately, she obtained recorded evidence of the harassment and Blount resigned.

This type of quid pro quo is the very definition of sexual harassment: a supervisor offers something of value or threatens to take negative action unless you sleep with him or her. Sexual harassment law exists precisely to prohibit this type of coercion.

Unfortunately, this was not Mr. Blount’s first harassment allegation. He had been accused earlier of grabbing a park worker by the buttocks—an allegation he denied and which his employer could not substantiate.

Sexually-Charged Atmospheres Can be Hostile

A quid pro quo, though the most obvious form of harassment, is not the only type. New York and federal law both protect workers from sexually-charged work environments that are hostile and make it very hard for employees to do their jobs.

Harassing conduct can take many forms, such as jokes, epithets, slurs, or sexual gestures or images. The amount of harassing conduct necessary to make the workplace hostile will depend on the circumstances, such as the conduct’s severity or pervasiveness. Generally, one or two sexual jokes will not make a workplace hostile, since the law is not designed to protect the fragile. But being groped or assaulted could, by itself, make your workplace oppressive.

Contact a New York Harassment Lawyer Today

Sexual harassment allegations continue to make the news, and more and more victims feel empowered to speak out. If you have been harassed, you can file a discrimination charge with the state or federal authorities. You can also bring a lawsuit.

For more information, reach out to us today. Schedule your consultation by calling 609-799-1266.