How NY Gov. Cuomo’s ‘apologies’ fail to recognize that power imbalances are at the root of sexual harassment

andrew cuomo
New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

  • Andrew Cuomo has issued denials, defenses, and apologies in response to misconduct accusations.
  • His “I never intended” responses miss the point – that power is at the heart of sexual harassment.
  • Ending sexual harassment will require a critical rethinking of the distribution of workplace power.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In recent weeks, multiple women have reported demeaning and sexualized workplace behavior by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In response, Cuomo has issued a combination of denials, defenses, and apologies.

Much of the public analysis of his statements has focused on the adequacy of these apologies – whether he took sufficient responsibility or expressed sufficient remorse.

Apologies deserve attention. They can help right wrongs and heal relationships.

Yet in the focus on apologies, an opportunity is missed to learn something about power. Power, after all, is at the heart of sexual harassment.

‘Unwanted imposition’

As Catharine MacKinnon, the architect of modern sexual harassment law, has argued, sexual misconduct at work can be defined as “the unwanted imposition of sexual requirements in the context of a relationship of unequal power.”

If responses like Cuomo’s are viewed through a power-informed lens, different patterns emerge. In my own study of over 200 such statements, I found many references to the accused’s own long careers, to their many professional accomplishments, and to their excellent reputations. In short, when challenged, the men in my study (and all but three were men) did what came naturally: They reached for their power.

This pattern is connected to another theme that I discovered in the statements I studied: repetition of explanations and defenses centered on the accused person’s own subjective intent and perceptions.

It’s me being funny. I’m not trying to sexually harass people,” for example, or “I come from a very different culture,” or “I remember trying to kiss [her] as part of what I thought was a consensual seduction ritual.”

However, the accused’s intentions, thoughts, or beliefs – so central in the statements I studied – are only peripheral under sexual harassment law.

Not a joke

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the main federal law that covers workplace discrimination and harassment, an employee may sue her employer when she has experienced severe or pervasive workplace harassment.

Severity and pervasiveness are judged subjectively, from the harassed person’s point of view, and objectively, in the view of a theoretical “reasonable person.” The law also requires that the conduct be unwelcomed by the harassed person.

Though different courts have interpreted these requirements differently around the edges, sexual harassment cases do not turn on whether the harasser thought his conduct was a joke, or culturally acceptable, or ritualized seduction.

Instead, the law’s subjectivity and “welcomeness” requirements ask a superior – like Cuomo – to evaluate his own conduct from his subordinate’s point of view. Superiors who want to avoid committing harassment to begin with (before anything gets to a judge, jury, or media story) need to step outside their own perspective.

This requires empathy. And the more power that a person wields in the workplace, the more difficult it may be to step outside one’s own position and consider the circumstances from another person’s perspective.

‘I never intended’

Here’s where Cuomo’s responses are revealing.

In his first official statement, released on Feb. 28, 2021, out of 18 “I” statements, over half were versions of “I never intended,” “I was being playful,” or “I do, on occasion, tease people.”

Cuomo followed suit in his press conference on March 3, repeating over and over variations on the “I never intended” or “I never knew” or “I didn’t mean it that way” theme.

These statements suggest that, over his long career, Cuomo did not pay attention to the effects of his words and actions on his subordinates, and that the power of his position may have reinforced his heedlessness.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warns about just this type of scenario in its list of harassment risk factors: “High value employees may perceive themselves as exempt from workplace rules or immune from consequences of their misconduct.” Workplaces with significant power imbalances, too, make the risk factor list.

If the movement sparked by #MeToo focuses only on taking down individual bad actors, it will leave intact the workplace structures that enable and protect the powerful – and that produce statements like Cuomo’s. Ending sexual harassment requires a critical rethinking of workplace power, whether it flows from ownership of a company, management of an office, supervision of a shop floor, or the office of the governor.

Charlotte Alexander, associate professor of law and analytics, Georgia State University

The Conversation
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Deutsch LA doubles referral bonuses for Black candidates

Hi and welcome to Insider Advertising for April 1. I’m senior advertising reporter Lauren Johnson, and here’s what’s going on:

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IPG agency Deutsch is doubling its referral bonuses for Black candidates as the ad industry struggles with diversity

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cuomo resignation
Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

NY Gov. Cuomo is hunting for crisis PR help as he battles negative press

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Animal welfare non-profit Lady Freethinker found dozens of videos on Facebook showing animals placed in distressing staged rescue scenarios.

Facebook is hosting animal abuse content disguised as rescues – and some of the videos have racked up millions of views

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Cuomo aides sent out an open letter that attacked accuser Lindsey Boylan after she came forward with assault allegations: NYT report

Andrew Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at a COVID-19 vaccination site in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021

  • Cuomo aides sent a letter to attack Lindsey Boylan’s credibility, The New York Times reported.
  • The letter was sent to former staffers after Boylan accused the governor of misconduct in December.
  • Sources say Cuomo was aware of the letter and took part in at least one draft.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

People tied to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sent around a letter attacking Lindsey Boylan after she came forward with sexual assault allegations in December, The New York Times reported.

Aides reportedly tried to get former staffers, especially women, to sign on to the open letter, which said that Boylan was making the allegations for political gain.

“Weaponizing a claim of sexual harassment for personal political gain or to achieve notoriety cannot be tolerated,” the letter said. “False claims demean the veracity of credible claims.”

The letter, which was never published but reviewed by the Times, tried to link Boyland to former President Donald Trump’s followers and released personal complaints made against her.

She was the first of six women who have accused Cuomo of inappropriate behavior.

Boylan first recounted the alleged harassment in a Twitter thread in December and in February in a Medium blog post, saying Cuomo made unwanted sexual advances toward her.

She resigned in 2018 after the governor kissed her on the lips without her consent.

The Times added that there were multiple drafts of the letter, with one source telling the outlet that Cuomo himself had a hand in its creation.

The letter came at a time when officials in Cuomo’s office knew of another sexual harassment report, one made by Charlotte Bennett six months earlier. Bennett would become the second woman to publically accuse the governor of misconduct. She claimed he asked her inappropriate questions and also made unwanted sexual advances toward her.

Cuomo has previously said he never inappropriately touched anyone but apologized for making anyone uncomfortable.

Lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York have called on Cuomo to resign in light of the allegations.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos that if an investigation supports the women’s allegations, Cuomo should step down.

“I think he’ll probably end up being prosecuted, too,” Biden said.

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Cuomo aide, who is accused of helping cover up nursing-home death tolls, was once a professor of ethics in government

linda lacewell cuomo
Linda Lacewell, right, after testifying at a bribery trial in Manhattan on January 24, 2018.

  • Linda Lacewell, a top Cuomo aide, is accused of covering up the number of New York’s nursing-home deaths.
  • Lacewell was previously Cuomo’s Chief of Staff and oversaw “ethics and law enforcement matters.”
  • She also taught classes on ethics in government at New York University’s School of Law.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

One of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s senior aides who faces allegations involving the nursing-home death toll cover-up previously taught classes on ethics in government, legal news website Law & Crime reported.

Linda Lacewell, the head of New York’s Department of Financial Services, is one of the three top aides accused of changing a report to conceal the real number of deaths in the state’s nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to The New York Times.

The Cuomo administration publicly cited figures that were roughly 50% lower than the real death toll, The Times reported.

Lacewell, who formerly served as Cuomo’s Chief of Staff, is one of the officials who is alleged to have directed the removal of COVID-19 deaths from the report, the New York Post reported.

The allegations are at odds with Lacewell’s background in ethics. She oversaw “ethics and law enforcement matters” while acting as Cuomo’s Chief of Staff, according to her biography on the New York State website.

Lacewell was also a professor of ethics for several years. While serving as an adjunct professor at New York University School of Law, Lacewell taught a class called “Ethics in Government: Investigation and Enforcement.”

In response to questions from Law & Crime about Lacewell’s involvement in rewriting the report, the website was directed to two statements that assert that the true number of deaths in nursing homes was omitted due to verification issues.

“The out-of-facility data was omitted after Department of Health could not confirm it had been adequately verified,” Special Counsel and Senior Advisor to Cuomo, Beth Garvey, said in the statement.

“Task Force Members, knowing the report needed to withstand rigorous public scrutiny were very cautious to not overstate the statistical analysis presented in the report,” Garvey added.

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Cuomo biographer details long history of Governor’s abuse towards staff

cuomo scandals
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

  • A reporter who wrote a biography of Andrew Cuomo says he has a history of bullying subordinates.
  • In a Vanity Fair essay, Michael Shnayerson told of several instances where Cuomo went after workers.
  • Cuomo has recently been accused of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior by multiple women.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A reporter who covered New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for years and wrote a biography on him in 2015 said the recent allegations against Cuomo are predictable given his long past.

In an essay in Vanity Fair, Michael Shnayerson said Cuomo had a history of attacking subordinates.

He said while Cuomo was serving as the assistant secretary and later as the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he would call older staffers “white heads” as a jab at their age.

He would also allegedly call them or “f–kheads” or “dumb f–ks.”

In the past few weeks, several women have alleged that Cuomo sexually assaulted them, behaved inappropriately, or touched them without their consent, and former staffers have detailed accounts of verbal abuse. The allegations have prompted Democratic lawmakers in New York, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, to call on Cuomo to resign.

Additionally, more than a dozen former aides have said they were either explicitly told or felt pressure to wear makeup and heels in Cuomo’s presence.

One staffer told Shnayerson that after being the subject of Cuomo’s “wrath” that she would just “sit in a meeting and put my head down, and I’d say, ‘Not here.'” However, Cuomo still continued to attack her.

In 1998, former HUD inspector general Susan Gaffney testified that Cuomo and his aides ran a smear campaign against her, saying that she was a racist because she produced audits that were critical of his administration. Cuomo would also call her at home on the weekends to berate her, she said.

Cuomo’s office did not reply to Insider’s email request for comment at the time of publication.

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What is Cuomo clutching in a photo of him wrapped in a blanket, taken at the end of a politically tumultuous week?

Cuomo skitch
  • Gov. Cuomo is facing calls to resign after allegations of sexual harassment from at least six women.
  • He was defiant during a Friday conference call and was later pictured pacing around Gracie Mansion.
  • Draped in a blanket and holding a phone to his ear, Cuomo appeared to be clutching spring water.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After a politically tumultuous week in his career, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was photographed Friday evening speaking on the phone and walking the grounds of the governor’s mansion.

The New York governor is facing calls to resign following allegations of sexual misconduct and political fallout over claims that his administration misrepresented the number of COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes.

Draped in a blanket, Cuomo appears to be clutching a blue bottle with his left hand. Here, on a Friday night, we were full of curiosity, “What is he drinking?”

While Insider could not confirm the brand, it appears to be the New York staple Saratoga Spring Water. (Twitter seems to agree, though it’s not clear if it is still or sparkling.)

Insider reached out to Cuomo’s office for confirmation.

2021 03 12T230736Z_1426176436_RC2Z9M9M3MU3_RTRMADP_3_NEW YORK CUOMO.JPG
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo walks on the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion following allegations that he had sexually harassed young women, in Albany, New York, U.S., March 12, 2021.

Saratoga calls itself the “premium product of choice for America’s most sophisticated consumers,” according to the company website. The water company goes on to say it prides itself for its “iconic cobalt blue glass bottles.”

The viral photo emerged as Cuomo faces escalating bipartisan pressure from state and federal lawmakers to resign, after at least six women have accused him of sexual misconduct.

Cuomo has remained defiant on calls for his resignation as more women have come forward, saying on Friday that he wouldn’t bow down to “cancel culture.” He added that he is not part of “the political club,” He has served three terms as governor, and his father, Mario Cuomo, was also a New York governor.

Hours after his conference call, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, both Democrats from New York, added their voices to the chorus of politicians calling for Cuomo to step down.

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In light of Cuomo allegations, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer suggests Dems have a double standard when it comes to allegations of sexual harassment

Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is pictured on October 16, 2020.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer suggested Thursday that fellow Democrats have a double standard when it comes to holding their own accountable around allegations of sexual harassment, according to Politico.

Speaking at a Politico Live event, Whitmer was asked about the mounting cascade of sexual misconduct allegations against Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“Is there a different standard for different sides of the aisle? We just had a president who lasted all four years with numerous allegations against him, so far as rape. No one on his own side of the aisle was making observations about whether or not he should stay in office,” Whitmer said. “So is there a different standard? I guess one could conclude that.”

“But weighing in on that, I don’t know [if that] gets either one of us very far,” Whitmer told Politico’s White House correspondent Anita Kumar at the event.

Whitmer added that she supported New York Attorney General Tish James’ investigation into the allegations, and shared that she is a survivor of sexual assault, according to Politico.

“If [the allegations] are true, then there should be accountability. But until that investigation happens, I don’t know that you can make a conclusion,” Whitmer said.

Cuomo is facing escalating bipartisan pressure from state and federal lawmakers to resign after at least six women have accused him of sexual harassment. Cuomo has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying on Friday that he wouldn’t bow down to “cancel culture.”

On Thursday, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer also added their voices to the chorus of politicians calling for Cuomo to step down.

During the 2016 election, former President Donald Trump faced claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault from dozens of women. Trump has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct.

In the run-up to the 2016 election, audio of Trump boasting about groping women was unearthed, ahead of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” interview with Billy Bush. While the tape was widely condemned across the political aisle, Trump went on to win the presidency and build political support as new allegations followed him throughout his term.

In 2019, journalist E. Jean Carroll alleged that Trump had raped her in the mid-1990s. Trump continued to maintain support from GOP lawmakers.

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New details emerge from Cuomo’s 6th accuser, claiming he “aggressively groped her in a sexually charged manner”

andrew cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a news conference on September 08, 2020 in New York City.

  • New details emerged from the sixth woman to accuse New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment.
  • The unnamed female staffer alleged the governor fondled her in his private residence last year.
  • Cuomo denied the new allegations in a statement to Insider Wednesday night.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The sixth woman to accuse New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment – who is currently a staffer – said he groped her in the executive mansion last year, according to the Albany Times Union.

The newspaper published new details about the alleged incident Wednesday, describing the most serious allegation against the third-term Democrat yet.

The unnamed woman alleged Cuomo “aggressively groped her in a sexually charged manner” after she had been summoned to the governor’s private residence under the pretext of helping him solve a technology issue, a person with direct knowledge of the woman’s claims told the Times Union.

Once alone, the source said Cuomo closed the door, then reached under the unnamed aide’s shirt and allegedly began to fondle her. She reportedly told him to stop.

The source, who told the newspaper they were not authorized to comment on the matter publicly, also said the unnamed staffer alleged that the governor was frequently flirtatious and said the mansion incident was not the only time he touched her.

Cuomo issued a statement to Insider Wednesday night denying the new allegations.

“As I said yesterday, I have never done anything like this. The details of this report are gut-wrenching. I am not going to speak to the specifics of this or any other allegation given the ongoing review, but I am confident in the result of the attorney general’s report,” he said.

The woman reportedly revealed her story in the governor’s Executive Chamber on March 3, as she and fellow staff members watched Cuomo give his first news conference since the flood of allegations had begun.

Insider reported that the woman disclosed the incident in an internal complaint to her supervisors, and that complaint had been referred to the New York Attorney General Tish Jame’s office, where an investigation into Cuomo’s conduct is underway.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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A fourth woman has accused New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of inappropriate behavior

Andrew Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seen attending a press conference on September 29, 2020.

A fourth woman has accused New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of inappropriate behavior, the Wall Street Journal reported. 

Ana Liss is also the third former aide to allege that Cuomo acted inappropriately at work. Liss, who worked as a policy and operations aide from 2013 to 2015, told the Journal that Cuomo asked if she had a boyfriend and called her “sweetheart.” Liss also said the governor touched her on her lower back and one time kissed her hand.

Last week, two other former staffers accused Cuomo of unwanted sexual advances. 

On Friday, Lindsey Boylan said that Cuomo made unwanted sexual advances toward her. She resigned in 2018 after the governor kissed her on the lips without her consent. The following day, Charlotte Bennett said that Cuomo asked her inappropriate questions and also made unwanted sexual advances toward her.

Following those allegations, Cuomo issued a statement on Sunday and said his behavior towards women had been “misinterpreted as unwanted flirtation.”

He said he teased people about their personal lives but never propositioned or inappropriately touched anyone. 

On Monday, Anna Ruch told The New York Times that she met Cuomo at a wedding in September 2019. He allegedly placed a hand on her bare lower back and called her ‘aggressive’ when she removed it. Ruch said Cuomo then placed his hands on her cheeks and asked if he could kiss her. 

Karen Hinton, who worked as a consultant for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development while Cuomo led the agency in the late 1990s, told The Washington Post that she had an inappropriate exchange with Cuomo in 2000. 

Hinton worked at the agency for 4½ years and reportedly had “contentious” disputes with Cuomo, including a screaming match filled with profanities right before her departure.

She alleged that Cuomo called her to his hotel room after an event in California, when he pulled her towards his body and held her before she backed away and left. 

Peter Ajemian, Cuomo’s director of communications, told Insider that Hinton’s account to the Post was inaccurate. 

“Karen Hinton is a known antagonist of the Governor’s who is attempting to take advantage of this moment to score cheap points with made up allegations from 21 years ago. All women have the right to come forward and tell their story – however, it’s also the responsibility of the press to consider self-motivation. This is reckless,” Ajemian said. 

Several other aides also told the Post that Cuomo fostered an abusive workplace culture. “You didn’t know which Andrew you were going to get,” said one woman who worked at HUD during Cuomo’s tenure told the Post. 

Young women who worked for Cuomo and remained anonymous for fear of retaliation told both the Post and Journal that Cuomo would ask about their dating lives. Three of the women told the Post that they didn’t see these as propositions but as part of the larger culture that degraded women in Cuomo’s office. The Journal reported the women also accused Cuomo of touching them and commenting on the way they looked. 

Rich Azzopardi, a senior Cuomo aide, told the Post that he’d never heard that type of abusive language used.

“The people of this state elected the Governor to represent them four times during the last 14 years and they know he works day and night for them. There is no secret these are tough jobs, and the work is demanding, but we have a top tier team with many employees who have been here for years, and many others who have left and returned. The Governor is direct with employees if their work is sub-par because the people of New York deserve nothing short of excellence,” Azzopardi told Insider in a statement. 

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Cuomo skipped sexual harassment training – that he himself mandated – by having a staffer complete it for him, accuser says

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

  • Gov. Cuomo made sexual harassment training mandatory for state employees in 2018.
  • But in 2019, Cuomo skipped it and had a staffer complete it for him, a former aide says.
  • That aide is also one of three women who have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

In 2018, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made sexual harassment training mandatory for employees in the state as part of his anti-sexual harassment agenda.

In 2019, the governor skipped the training and instead had a staffer complete it for him, according to a woman who also worked for Cuomo at the time and has since accused him of sexual harassment.

Charlotte Bennett, 25, was the second woman to come forward with accusations against Cuomo, including that he asked her deeply personal sexual questions and made inappropriate comments about her sexual assault.

In an interview with CBS that aired Thursday and Friday, Bennett, a former aide to Cuomo, recounted her experiences, adding that Cuomo did not take the sexual harassment training in 2019.

“I was there. I heard [the office director] say, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this for you’ and making a joke about the fact that she was completing the training for him,” Bennett told CBS. “And then I heard her at the end ask him to sign the certificate.”

In the wake of the allegations against him, Cuomo was asked by a reporter on Wednesday whether he had taken the sexual harassment training.

“Short answer is yes,” Cuomo responded.


Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request from Insider.

“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable, and I truly and deeply apologize for it,” Cuomo also said on Wednesday. “And frankly, I am embarrassed by it. And that’s not easy to say, but that’s the truth.”

Bennett is one of three women who have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. The New York Times reported on Friday that the New York attorney general has asked members of Cuomo’s administration to save any records that could be relevant to the sexual harassment inquiry.

The governor has also come under fire in recent weeks for his administration’s pandemic response. The Times and The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Cuomo’s top advisers had successfully pushed health officials to alter a report that would obscure the high COVID-19 death toll in nursing homes.

Also on Friday, New York state lawmakers stripped Cuomo of the emergency powers he was granted in the early days of the pandemic, when some were praising his coronavirus response.

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