News & Politics

De Blasio on How Many City Workers Report Sexual Harassment: We Dunno

“While being always watchful and vigilant, I am happy to say I have not seen that kind of behavior,” said the mayor

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Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters that President Donald Trump should resign if an investigation showed that the numerous complaints of sexual misconduct that have accrued over decades against the commander-in-chief proved to be true.

“I think there should equally be an investigation into the charges against President Trump, because they’ve been stated by many individuals and, obviously, with the elected officials or candidates in all these other cases recently, and people in the media and Hollywood, the allegations have led to action,” de Blasio told reporters. “Why is there only one person who the allegations have not led to any follow-up? And that’s Donald Trump. Of course there should be a full investigation.”

But if a member of Mayor de Blasio’s own administration had racked up a slew of complaints of sexual harassment or assault, the mayor would be hard-pressed to know, let alone investigate, because City Hall does not currently compile a list of allegations of sexual misconduct in the municipal workplace.

“I do not know of the specifics agency by agency,” the mayor said in response to a question at a press conference yesterday. “I am pleased to say this has not been a phenomenon that I have heard coming up in our administration in any significant way, thank God, and it’s something we take very, very seriously and we would address very seriously in each instance.”

When the Voice asked if the data is being collected at all, Zachary Carter, the city’s top lawyer, replied, “On an agency-by-agency basis there’s a way of compiling that data, but in terms of compiling it in a way in which it was systematically reported in the aggregate for the entire city, as opposed to an agency-by-agency basis, I don’t believe we can.”

We later pressed a spokesperson for the mayor’s office on what this meant. Does every agency compile this data? Or do some agencies compile the data and some don’t? Or is this data compiled at all?

The entire response: “No citywide total currently.”

Unnamed city officials told Politico yesterday that individual agencies collect overall complaint records but do not sort them by type. Carter added at yesterday’s press conference that while it’s possible for the city to pinpoint how much money it has paid out to settle claims of sexual misconduct, that analysis has not yet been done.

Deborah Rhode, a law professor at Stanford University who specializes in ethics and professional responsibility and is the former director of Stanford’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender, says she finds the city’s admission “surprising.”

“It’s very important to monitor the complaints to identify patterns on serial abusers and serial harassment, and we have some research indicating that they may account for a disproportionate amount of the problem,” Rhode tells the Voice.

“If [the city gets] sued, one of the questions will be, did they have reason to know that this individual had a history of harassment? Certainly best practices should call for them to have this kind of information.”

Civil rights attorney Gloria Allred tells the Voice that “government owes the public the highest degree of transparency regarding allegations of sexual misconduct and what action government takes in handling claims. The public needs to know how claims are being resolved, the action that is taken against those who sexually harass, and how much has been paid to victims and from what source.”

Other large local governments appear to be ahead of New York City in this area. The City of Los Angeles has been keeping data of complaints of sexual misconduct by agency since 2000, according to a spokesperson, though the records are not complete, and have not yet been fully centralized. Last month, Mayor Eric Garcetti sent a memo to his deputies requiring that all complaints of misconduct be reported to the city’s main human resources division within 48 hours of receiving them.

By contrast, the County of Los Angeles, which employs roughly 110,000 people and has a budget of roughly $30 billion, tracks all complaints of sexual misconduct. In November, L.A. County announced it had seen a surge of complaints of sexual harassment in its workforce since July of 2017.

Last month, a group of New York City councilmembers said they would propose legislation that would include requiring all city agencies to compile and disclose allegations of sexual misconduct. A spokesperson for one of the sponsors of that legislation, Upper West Side councilmember Helen Rosenthal, said yesterday that the bills are still being drafted.

Public Advocate Letitia James tells the Voice that she supports such legislation: “Sexual harassment pervades every industry at every income level, for every race, ethnicity, and sexual identity across the political spectrum. We have a responsibility to protect all workers from any kind of harassment, including workers in the halls of our own government.”

At Wednesday’s press conference, the mayor stopped short of endorsing the legislation or the idea that the city agencies should collect and disclose the number of complaints they receive, stressing that “we need to examine this whole area of concern and figure out everything we can do” about the issue.

“I think we have sent a very clear message from the beginning of the administration that we won’t tolerate sexual harassment, and that is about our values, that is about the law, and certainly since the clear majority of the senior leadership positions in this administration are held by women, there is special focus from that leadership that making sure that no such behavior occurs,” the mayor said. “While being always watchful and vigilant, I am happy to say I have not seen that kind of behavior.”

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