Two women who were staff employees for former New York Assemblyman Vito Lopez alleged in lawsuits that he sexually harassed them and they accused Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of failing to investigate their complaints.
Victoria Burhans, 27, and Chloe Rivera, 25, filed the sexual discrimination and harassment lawsuits yesterday in federal and state courts in Manhattan. Both said Lopez subjected them to a hostile work environment, made numerous unwanted sexual advances toward them and made “incessant” comments about their bodies, clothing and appearance.
Lopez, a Democrat who had represented the 53rd District in Brooklyn, New York, since 1985, resigned on May 20. The women said in their complaints that Silver, as speaker, was required to promulgate a sexual harassment policy prohibiting such behavior by elected officials yet failed to do so.
“Lopez would not have been able to abuse plaintiffs without the assistance of the speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver,” Burhans and Rivera said in the federal complaint. “As a result of Silver’s complete failure to meet his obligations as the most senior official in the Assembly, Lopez continued his deplorable conduct.”
Silver and Lopez are defendants in the federal case, while the Assembly is the only defendant in the state case, which alleges violations of the New York State Human Rights Law.
“We will review the complaint when we receive it,” Mike Whyland, a spokesman for Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement responding to the federal lawsuit.
Gerald Lefcourt, a lawyer for Lopez, didn’t return voice-mail messages left at his office yesterday and today seeking comment on the complaints.
Last month Daniel Donovan, the Staten Island district attorney, said in a seven-page report that he wouldn’t file criminal charges against Lopez.
Donovan, a Republican, was appointed special prosecutor in the investigation, which coincided with a similar probe by the state ethics commission. Both began in September after Lopez was stripped of his committee chairmanship and Silver said the Assembly had secretly settled harassment claims with two female employees for $103,000.
Burhans and Rivera allege that the confidential settlement with the two women helped cover up Lopez’s behavior, saying, “Silver was more concerned about avoiding adverse media attention than he was about protecting employees of the Assembly from sexual harassment.”
The cases are Burhans v. Lopez, 12-cv-03870, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan); and Burhans v. the Assembly of the State of New York, 155232/2013, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).
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