Harassment Lawsuit Claims New York Gov. Cuomo's Office Ignored Complaints
By Lauren Stanforth
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office was cast into the national maelstrom surrounding sexual harassment allegations after an Erie County woman accused the governor's office in a lawsuit of ignoring her complaints about Sam Hoyt, a former administration official.
The lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court Saturday provides salacious details that allege Hoyt, who spearheaded economic development in the western part of the state, constantly texted, emailed and called Lisa Marie Cater before and after he got her a job at the Erie County Department of Motor Vehicles in February 2016.
The allegation surfaces as the nation confronts allegations of sexual assault or misconduct by a string of men, including Hollywood studio boss Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, and Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Cater claims that Hoyt texted her a naked picture of himself asking if he had a tan, forcibly grabbed her crotch in a public park, and that an attorney in the governor's office responded to her complaint by asking if she what she wanted was money.
Cuomo's counsel, Alphonso David, lashed back Sunday, saying that the attorney mentioned in the lawsuit does not work for the governor's office, and that the governor's office first heard about the allegations in an email Cater sent to a generic communications mailbox in October 2016.
Subsequently, three separate state agencies began investigating Hoyt, who resigned from his position as Empire State Development regional president in Buffalo Oct. 30, David said.
"Any allegation that anyone offered the complainant a bribe is divorced from reality," David said in a statement.
Hoyt has acknowledged he had a relationship with Cater and paid her a settlement, but denies harassing or assaulting her.
"I have made many mistakes in my life. Having a consensual and inappropriate relationship with [the woman] was wrong and something I regret," Hoyt said in a statement to the Buffalo News after his resignation. "That said, what she has accused me of is categorically untrue. When I attempted to end the relationship she threatened me. At that point, over a year ago, my wife and I agreed to a settlement to avoid public embarrassment to our family."
The lawsuit filed Saturday says Cater, a previous victim of domestic abuse, emailed Buffalo's economic development office about affordable housing in October 2015. Cater said she was surprised when she was contacted back directly by Hoyt.
They continued email communications, with Cater alleging Hoyt said he could provide her with a state patronage job. In November 2015, Cater alleges Hoyt showed up at her residence and groped and kissed her without her permission.
Cater says in the lawsuit that she went along with Hoyt's advances in order to get a job.
In an earlier interview with the The Buffalo News, the victim (who has since been identified as Cater) said she met Hoyt at a clambake. She said that her initial interaction with Hoyt, which consisted of flirting and kissing, was consensual.
"It was fun in the beginning but went a little too far," she told the Buffalo News. "It needed to stop."
Saturday's lawsuit, which alleges violations of Cater's civil rights and Constitutional protections, says soon after getting her DMV job, Hoyt allegedly texted her a nude photo of himself and asked, "Do you think I look tan?" Cater claims a fellow employee, who saw that Cater was visibly upset, also looked at the photo on Cater's phone.
Cater's allegations also include that she went to the hospital once for stress-related stomach pain and that Hoyt contacted hospital staff about her visit.
Cuomo's office was named in the lawsuit because Cater contends she contacted the governor's office numerous times starting in July 2016, but received no response. She said she called the governor's office, sent emails, and posted information on a Cuomo office Facebook page.
In August 2016, Cater says she met Hoyt in a park during the afternoon hours to convince him to end his alleged harassment. She alleges Hoyt then grabbed her crotch, squeezing it saying, "you know this is what I want."
Cater says she urged Hoyt to come clean with Cuomo's office about his behavior. Hoyt said he talked to the governor's office and "they said to make it go away," the lawsuit states.
She alleges Hoyt began to offer reperations for his actions, such as creating a GoFundMe account for her under the guise of raising money for a hand injury she suffered from her cat.
Cater had been out on short-term disability from her DMV job, she alleges, not just because of her hand injury but because of Hoyt's harassment. In the lawsuit, Cater said she got a cat to ease her anxiety but that "Hoyt used the cat as a means to stalk the plaintiff on a daily basis and ask her about the cat."
The lawsuit states that in Oct. 2016, Hoyt "forced" her to take $50,000 "in exchange for silence," and that Cuomo's office only forwarded her case to the Inspector General's office after an attorney in the office allegedly asked if she was filing a complaint for money.
"We flatly deny that claim, which is contrary to demonstrable facts, including the three separate investigations launched into the initial complaint," Cuomo's counsel, David, said in an statement.
Cuomo's counsel said Sunday that the attorney Cater alleged talked to, Noreen Van Doran, works for the Office of General Services. "OGS had been interacting with Ms. Cater regarding Ms. Cater's request for additional leave accruals resulting from from her cat biting her," David said, "which had been denied."
The governor's office Sunday also criticized Cater for not speaking with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which is investigating her case. Cater says in the lawsuit that Hoyt found out about the investigation, and threatened her if she cooperated.
Cater's lawsuit said she is seeking punitive damages and compensation for lost pay, but it did not specify an amount.
The state Joint Commission on Public Ethics is continuing its investigation of Hoyt, Cuomo's office said.
Hoyt, who was appointed by Cuomo to a regional senior vice president post at Empire State Development in 2011, was barred from participating in the Assembly internship and student mentoring program in 2008 after engaging in a relationship with an intern for five years.
(c)2017 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)