During a press briefing Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo denied accusations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward his female staffers, challenging a reporter’s assertion that harassment entails making someone feel uncomfortable.
“If I just made you feel uncomfortable, that is not harassment. That’s you feeling uncomfortable,” Cuomo commented.
The reporter emphasized that the harasser’s intentions are irrelevant according to the law on the books and asked the governor to acknowledge that.
“I never said anything that I believed was inappropriate, I never meant to make you feel that way. You may hear it that way, you may interpret it that way, and I respect that, and I apologize to you if I said something you think is offensive,” Cuomo said.
The provision the reporter referred to was signed into law in 2019 by Cuomo himself. The legislation codified new workplace harassment protections that lowered the bar for employees to introduce cases of sexual harassment, discrimination, and assault by amending the New York Human Rights Law to clarify that conduct need not be “severe or pervasive.”
At the time of the law’s signing, Cuomo remarked that there “has been an ongoing, persistent culture of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination in the workplace, and now it is time to act.”
“By ending the absurd legal standard that sexual harassment in the workplace needs to be ‘severe or pervasive’ and making it easier for workplace sexual harassment claims to be brought forward, we are sending a strong message that time is up on sexual harassment in the workplace and setting the standard of equality for women,” he said.
Cuomo’s Thursday statement comes as investigations into multiple scandals currently embattle the governor’s office, including allegations of sexual misconduct.
At least eight women have claimed that Cuomo inappropriately touched them or made comments that made them uncomfortable. Cuomo has repeatedly refuted the accusations, while offering that he hugs and kisses people to be friendly as well as acts “playful” and pokes fun about their personal lives, behavior which he believes does not constitute harassment.