Two women who say they were repeatedly sexually harassed by a longtime assemblyman filed a pair of lawsuits Thursday, seeking damages for the abuse they received and accusing Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of having “personally assisted” now-former Assemblyman Vito Lopez in discriminating against them.
An attorney for Chloe Rivera, 25, and Victoria Burhans, 27, filed the lawsuits Thursday afternoon, less than a month after Silver, D-Manhattan, was criticized in an ethics report for his handling of previous harassment complaints and Lopez was found to have pervasively sexually harassed his employees. Silver and Lopez were named as defendants in a federal lawsuit, while the Assembly as a whole is the defendant in a state suit.
Rivera and Burhans were both employees of Lopez and filed formal complaints with the state Assembly last year that eventually led to his censure. The pair claimed Lopez had forced them to give him hand massages and made repeated inappropriate sexual comments and advances.
The lawsuits accuse Silver and his staff of making false comments in an attempt to cover up their failure to refer two previous complaints from separate accusers to the Assembly Ethics Commission. Those complaints were settled with a confidential agreement, with $103,000 in state funds going to the complainants.
“Silver and his staff orchestrated a campaign of false public statements in order to deflect their egregious failure to have taken even the most basics steps to protect Lopez’s staffers from Lopez’s sexual harassment and abuse,” the state suit reads.
Lopez, a Brooklyn Democrat, resigned last month after he was heavily criticized in an ethics report from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and a separate report from Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, who was acting as a special prosecutor.
Silver has faced a steady stream of criticism for his handling of the initial harassment complaints against Lopez, with several Assembly Republicans and two Democrats calling on him to step down. The lawsuits filed Thursday accuse him of harboring a culture that allowed Lopez to harass his female employees.
The legal action does not specify how much money the accusers are seeking. Neither Burhans nor Rivera will be made available for comment, according to their New York City-based attorney, Kevin Mintzer.