May 20, 2013

Speaker Silver Announces Reforms to Assembly Policies
Concerning Sexual Harassment
Changes Include the Creation of an Independent Investigator, Mandatory Reporting and Legislation to Ban Confidential Settlements

Saying that serious mistakes were made in the New York State Assembly's handling of the sexual harassment accusations against former member Vito Lopez, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today announced a series of reforms to prevent similar errors in judgment from happening in the future. Instead of allowing incidents to be considered on a case-by-case basis by legislative leadership, the reforms create clear and mandatory pathways to handle any sexual harassment complaints that arise in the future.

The recently appointed Assembly Task Force on Sexual Harassment is charged with seeking outside professional counsel to assist in making recommendations on how to improve Assembly sexual harassment policies going forward. These recommendations will be made as soon as practicable, hopefully by the end of session, and must at a minimum provide for an independent investigator charged with investigating sexual harassment complaints. This investigator would operate independent of Assembly leadership and staff to investigate sexual harassment allegations. A new policy will also be implemented to require all Assembly supervisory employees and all elected members of the Assembly to serve as mandatory reporters in any and all suspected cases of sexual harassment. In addition, legislation will be introduced to enact a ban on all confidential settlements.

"We have worked hard to strengthen our policies concerning sexual harassment and to create a safe working environment, but while we fully thought we were acting in the interests of the victims and their desire for confidentiality, our errors in judgment resulted in the opposite effect," said Silver. "The strongest changes we can make will prevent future errors in judgment by creating an independent investigator to handle such cases and requiring mandated reporting, ensuring that any future allegation is quickly and fully investigated."

The policy changes and legislation announced today will protect Assembly employees and help ensure a safer and more respectful workplace. They will build on the work of the Task Force on Sexual Harassment convened earlier this year to examine the Assembly's sexual harassment policy, which will now determine if any additional revisions need to be made.

The policy changes will be effective immediately and the legislation, which Speaker Silver will personally sponsor, will be voted on as soon as possible.

Creating an Independent Investigator

Today, Silver announced that from this day forward, neither the Speaker, the Office of Majority Counsel, nor any other member of Assembly central staff will have any involvement in sexual harassment complaints made against an elected member or staff person.

Under the change, a budget will be provided to establish an independent investigator to handle complaints from inception and throughout the process. The investigator will be independent of the Assembly Majority central staff and will not be appointed by, nor will they serve at, the will of the Speaker.

All allegations of harassment or any other violation made to any member of the staff or to any member of the Assembly, regardless of how it is made, must be referred to the independent investigator. Staff that report to the Speaker, as well as the Speaker himself, will no longer have any role or ability to impact the handling of complaints.

Mandatory Reporting of Sexual Harassment Complaints

Under a second policy change, any supervisory staff or member of the Assembly who is informed by another employee, verbally or in writing, that she or he is being harassed will now have a mandatory duty to report it to the independent investigator. Failure to report will be subject to immediate sanction.

"The actions I am announcing today are designed to make sure going forward this never happens again," said Silver. "The mistakes we made were ones of judgment and not borne out of any desire to shield Vito Lopez. What is clear is that we all have a responsibility to make sure we create a safe and respectful workplace. Requiring mandatory reporting is a significant step in realizing this goal."

Banning Confidential Settlements

Silver also announced that he will introduce - and the Assembly will soon take up - legislation to ban the use of confidential settlements by any government agency, including both houses of the Legislature, the Executive branch and all state public authorities. In addition, Assembly policies will be changed to prohibit the Assembly from entering into any such settlements.

All of these reforms will be implemented as soon as possible and the legislation will be introduced this week for passage before the end of this session.