High-profile Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred joined with her co-counsel to issue a new statement today directed at Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, criticizing him for comments he made about the chamber’s policy on handling workplace complaints.
Allred has all but acknowledged representing at least one Assembly employee that received $103,080 in public funds to help confidentially settle a claim in June. She and two other attorneys knocked Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, for the Assembly’s past position that a private financial settlement “precluded” the chamber from referring a claim to its ethics committee for further investigation. (Silver expressed remorse in a full statement late yesterday.)
The settlement came just before two other Assembly employees filed a formal complaint against longtime Assemblyman Vito Lopez, D-Brooklyn. Those complaints were referred to the ethics committee, which found “credible” evidence that he sexually harassed the two women.
“Mr. Silver has to shift his priorities. The legislators are elected officials,” Allred and the two other attorneys said in their statement today. “Their job is not to sexually harass women. If they do, there should be no corner in which they can hide.
They continued: “The state legislature should do everything possible to bring current and past allegations of this nature to light.”
UPDATED: Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Silver, had this to say in response: “The Speaker agrees. The previous policy was wrong. As he said yesterday, he takes full responsibility and is committed to changing it.”
Speaking to reporters in Essex County this afternoon, Cuomo was asked about Silver’s mea culpa and echoed similar comments the governor made yesterday.
“I think we need a thorough investigation into the entire matter,” Cuomo said. “Let’s get all of the facts. Let’s find out how this actually happened, what actually happened … and let’s make sure we have reforms in place so that it can never happen again.”
You can read Allred’s full statement after the jump:
We disagree with Speaker Silver’s statement that the Legislature is “precluded” from referring complaints to the Assembly’s Ethics committee whenever an employee also seeks some form of a private resolution of claims against an alleged harasser. Neither the law nor ethical requirements preclude such a referral.
The state legislature is not above the law which requires that all complaints of sexual harassment and sex discrimination be fully and promptly investigated and that appropriate remedial action be taken if sexual harassment or discrimination has occurred.
The state legislature, and all other employers, have a duty not only to protect past victims of sexual harassment, but also to ensure that discrimination and harassment come to an end for current employees.
Entering into discussions with lawyers for an alleged victim or victims is not a substitute for an investigation, particularly since the state legislature, unlike private attorneys representing an individual or individuals, would be aware of prior complaints and/or other unlawful conduct by the same alleged harasser. Because the legislature is in a unique position to have knowledge of prior allegations of past sexual misconduct by a legislator, the legislature should understand that it has a heightened ethical and legal duty to immediately conduct a fair and impartial investigation in order to ensure that all employees of elected officials are safe, rather than victimized.
Mr. Silver has to shift his priorities. The legislators are elected officials. Their job is not to sexually harass women. If they do, there should be no corner in which they can hide. The state legislature should do everything possible to bring current and past allegations of this nature to light.
Gloria Allred, Attorney at Law
Nathan Goldberg, Attorney at Law
Mariann Wang, Attorney at Law
August 29, 2012