Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law Wednesday that closes the so-called “license to harass” loophole — a carveout that exempted certain staffers of elected and appointed government officials from the protections of anti-sexual harassment legislation passed in 2019.
Hochul also signed two other bills meant to better protect victims of sexual harassment, during a Manhattan press conference Wednesday. One creates a statewide tipline for public and private sector workers to report sexual harrassment in their workplaces. The third bill makes it a violation of the state Human Rights Law to release personnel records as a way of discounting the claims of victims of workplace discrimination.
Hochul took office last summer after her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, resigned in disgrace following a string of sexual harassment allegations of by multiple staffers. She vowed to end the culture of harassment that has pervaded the corridors of Albany for generations.
“This is a new day in New York,” Hochul said, adding her administration had created an independent human resources department to field any concerns about sexual harassment, something that hadn’t existed under Cuomo. “Everyone has the right to a safe, secure workplace where they are valued and respected.”
Assemblymembers Yuh-Line Niou and Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas as well as State Sens. Alessandra Biaggi and Andrew Gounardes co-sponsored the three bills.
“Closing the loophole is long overdue. When we passed our historic workplace protections against sexual harassment in 2019, our state leaders exempted themselves,” Niou said, referring to the landmark 2019 legislation signed into law by Cuomo. “[We’ve] finally [given] our staff the protections that the rest of the state now has and hold ourselves to the same standard that we hold others to.”
Advocates say under the prior law, the “personal staff” carveout from the sexual harassment legislation created a gray area that shielded state, city and municipal governments from liability for sexual harassment lawsuits, even if the offenses were committed by public officials in the workplace. Advocates said closing the loophole would be one of the best ways for Hochul to show she was serious about ridding Albany of sexual harassment.
Hochul, then the lieutenant governor, took office last summer after Cuomo resigned. Nearly a dozen women accused him of sexual harassment, making inappropriate comments or touching and kissing them in ways that made them uncomfortable. Cuomo staffers had leaked Lindsey Boylan’s confidential personnel records in an effort to discredit her after she came forward saying Cuomo had sexually harassed her — something that would now be illegal under the new state law.