Four years ago, the state Assembly agreed to pay $545,000 to two women who had been sexually harassed by Vito Lopez, a Brooklyn assemblyman.
Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged in his State of the State address that public funds not be used to pay off claims of sexual harassment by government officials.
Maybe the governor was thinking about the situation for the past four years and weighing how to do the right thing.
Or maybe he wasn’t terribly concerned until a few months ago, when awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace and attention to it exploded nationwide.
You can say many things about Andrew Cuomo, but you cannot say he lets an opportunity to jump on a bandwagon pass him by.
We do agree that any state government employee or official, appointed or elected, should be on his own when accused of sexual harassment in the workplace. The accused should pay for their own lawyers and pay their own settlements.
But this argument should be filed under “things we shouldn’t have to say.”
It feels so unnecessary to make the case that dealing with the consequences of sexual harassment should be the responsibility of the harasser.
Unfortunately, the Lopez case is hardly an aberration. For years, the consequences of workplace sexual harassment have fallen primarily on the targets of the abuse.
While powerful men have been allowed to misbehave with impunity, less-powerful women — and sometimes men — who have done nothing wrong have lost their jobs, their reputations and their self-esteem.
What this cultural moment is about is, finally, evening out power imbalances in the workplace, so that people who are mistreated have recourse.
The #MeToo movement is one front in the struggle for justice, and the more people who understand its importance, the quicker we will take another step toward a just society.
We can’t criticize Gov. Cuomo’s acknowledgement of the issue, belated as it was. Many of us have had our eyes opened over the past few months to the extent of this problem, and we are not talking about friendly compliments or jokes between friends.
We are talking about workplaces made toxic by harassment and about physical assault.
The abuses committed by Vito Lopez cost New York taxpayers more than half a million dollars. Four years later, it’s time to acknowledge that we shouldn’t have paid a dime.