Cuomo Under Fire – Was it Sexual Harassment or Just Plain Stupidity

We are living in the world of the MeToo Movement.  It has pervaded our culture and entered into our consciousness in the wake of an alarming number of sexual predators who have victimized women for too long.

So how is it that our esteemed Governor, the man who I served under while he was the New York State Attorney General, fallen so far so fast?  Governor Cuomo, the man we all turned to during this pandemic for his daily morning updates, is being accused by eight women of despicable conduct that seems out of character for the leader we trusted. Is he guilty? Time will tell, but it is important for us to understand what sexual harassment is exactly before the verdict is in and we pass judgment.

Sexual harassment is any sort of unwelcome or offensive comments or touching that is either of a romantic or a sexual nature. And it can be from a coworker. It could be from a supervisor or an owner. It can be from a patron. If you are in a public place, it could be from an employee of that establishment. If it’s sexual harassment that happens in school, it could be from a teacher, a faculty member, an employee, or another student. The most important thing about sexual harassment discrimination is the unwelcomeness of either the comments, the act, or the act that is taking place.

So What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?

It is illegal to harass a job applicant or employee in New York due to that person’s sex. However, harassment does not need to be purely of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment comes in two forms: quid pro quo and hostile workplace. The former exists when your employer offers to trade job benefits for sexual favors. Only people in power such as supervisors or managers would commit this type of sexual harassment.

Hostile workplace harassment exists when the harassing actions are severe or frequent. This type of harassment may be committed by coworkers as well as supervisors, managers, and clients or customers. This type of harassment may include advances, sexually discriminatory remarks, derogatory statements, words, pranks, jokes, signs, physical violence, intimidation, or any sort of action of a sexual nature taken due to the victim’s sex. They must cause the person hearing them discomfort, humiliation, or a loss of productivity.

Harassment does not need to include physical or sexual actions. It is considered prohibited sexual harassment to make offensive remarks about women, but these remarks must be severe or pervasive to be actionable. Romantic overtures, rather than purely sexual ones, such as repeatedly asking a coworker on a date, may also be considered sexual harassment. This may be the achilles heel for our beloved Governor.  The actions that are considered to be harassment may be directed toward a man or woman and may be committed by men or women. The victim and the harasser may be of the same sex or gender.

Generally, the New York State Human Rights Law applies to employers with four or more employees, while Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees. However, the Human Rights Law applies to all employers, regardless of how many people they employ, as of 2015. Even domestic workers like a nanny or maid are protected from sexual harassment.

An employer faces strict liability if you have been harassed by an owner or high-level manager. Employers may only be held strictly liable for harassment by lower-level managers and supervisors if they have enough control over your working conditions. This means that you may hold your employer responsible for the harassment, even if the owner did not know that it was happening. However, you should report the harassment to the employer and take advantage of any grievance system that the employer has put in place before taking other formal steps. An experienced attorney can walk you through this potentially stressful process.

Protect Your Rights by Retaining a Sexual Harassment Lawyer in New York  

If you are wondering what constitutes sexual harassment, you should consult an employment discrimination lawyer about whether you may have a case.  We empathize with your situation and will hold your hand throughout the process as we know this is a difficult issue to address and as a victim, you simply do not know where to turn. The lawyers at the Van De Water Law Firm, P.C., are experts in the field and have settled dozens of these cases before they go to trial.  Contact us for a free and completely confidential consultation at 516-400-4142 or on the web at

Chris Van De Water