Monday, August 27, 2012

Would private-sector version of alleged harasser Vito Lopez get "fired in a heartbeat" (as per Daily News)? Maybe not if it's Forest City and Jim Stuckey

The career of Bushwick Assemblyman and Kings County Democratic Party Chair Vito Lopez is gravely wounded, perhaps mortally so, and not by accusations of political chicanery, steering funds to the social service empire he founded, or ensuring that his girlfriend and a political ally, who run that empire, get paid very well.

Instead, it's an ethics committee finding of sexual harassment, which, though not a full legal proceeding, involves some investigation. Lopez denies the allegations.

The Daily News commented in an editorial:
Most grotesquely, as recounted in a letter to Lopez from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, “ You put your hand on her leg, she removed your hand and you put your hand on her upper thighs, putting your hand as far up between her legs as you could go.”
Silver also writes that a staffer who was forced to join Lopez on a trip to Atlantic City reported “that you attempted to kiss her, that she struggled to fend you off before you stopped and that on the drive back . . . you again put your hand between her legs.”
...All of which, if true, amount to an open-and-shut case of sexual harassment — if not criminal sexual abuse.
Silver properly sacked Lopez as Housing Committee chairman, reducing his office budget and barring him from hiring any employees under 21 or using interns.
But those sanctions are nowhere near sufficient to punish behavior that would get a private-sector boss fired in a heartbeat — and that exposes taxpayers to potential lawsuits.
In the private sector: Forest City

As it happened, a somewhat parallel situation--it's not clear precisely how much--happened at private-sector Forest City Ratner regarding Jim Stuckey, who headed Atlantic Yards, but there was no firing "in a heartbeat" but rather some resistance at first. The New York Post reported 10/15/11:
Stuckey was ousted by the company’s CEO, Bruce Ratner, in early 2007 after a series of complaints had been made against him by female employees, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of what happened.
Ratner, sources told The Post, resisted the idea of getting rid of Stuckey until some of his top lieutenants threatened to quit after an ugly incident at a 2006 Christmas party.
According to company sources, Stuckey took all of his subordinates to a club and then called a number of women employees into a private room, where he had them sit on his lap as though he were Santa Claus.
Fearing that mass resignations -- of senior executives as well as people who reported to Stuckey -- would cause the company a p.r. nightmare at a sensitive time in the Atlantic Yards project, Bruce Ratner pushed Stuckey out and then helped him land the job at NYU. 
Stuckey has since been sued for harassing a subordinate at NYU, and left the university; both defendants are fighting the charges, and the case is pending. 

The pattern with Lopez

As it happened, the Times reported yesterday that Lopez was apparently a repeat offender:
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver quietly settled at least one sexual harassment accusation against a powerful Brooklyn assemblyman before censuring him on Friday for sexually harassing two other female employees, people with knowledge of the agreement said.
The previous accusation against Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, who is also the head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, was settled earlier this year at least in part with public funds, a confidentiality agreement and a mandatory sexual harassment workshop. 
The Post reported:
And ex-staffers and political insiders are now saying the committee’ findings point to a disturbing pattern of behavior that spanned years.
“It was kind of known that he was grabby,” said a female Brooklyn operative. “And if you wanted to work for him, you had to be cute. He likes cute women.”
Some echoes with Stuckey

The suit against Stuckey and NYU states:
Stuckey moved many of the men out of his suite of offices at NYU and he filled it with young, attractive women, including [plaintiff Stephanie] Bonadio.
When Stuckey was at Forest City, it did not go unremarked that, at public events, he tended to have with him young, attractive women.

No, there's not enough information to confirm that Lopez and Stuckey are two sides of the same coin. Still, there is enough to raise that question.

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