Sexual Harassment

Survivors from the Sexual Harassment Working Group Members speak to New York state legislators during a public hearing on sexual harassment in the workplace Feb. 13 in Albany. 

A little more than a month ago, a group of brave people sat before a panel of state lawmakers, with cameras rolling and clicking, to tell their personal stories of being sexual harassment survivors.

It was the first such hearing in roughly three decades in Albany, an event prompted by the #MeToo movement and a wave of new state lawmakers coming into office after campaigning that they would boldly address state government's longstanding problems with sexual harassment.

But as historic and eye-opening as that day was, it won't have meant a thing if the Legislature and governor don't follow through with meaningful new laws. With attention now focused on the state budget for 2019-20, we've heard little from the governor, Senate or Assembly leaders on progress for this issue.

What we have heard this month, though, are more stories that illustrate the glaring problems embedded in state government when it comes to addressing perpetrators of sexual harassment.

The Associated Press' Albany bureau brought forward a story two weeks ago about Chad Dominie, an administrator with the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities who was the subject of numerous internal complaints over two years before he was finally arrested. Only then did the state take action against him — putting him on leave pending the outcome of a disciplinary proceeding. And it a proceeding that's apparently ongoing nearly a year-and-a-half after the incident that prompted his arrest and eventually guilty plea.

The AP followed with another disturbing update two weeks later, reporting that  Jay Kiyonaga, who was terminated last May at the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities after investigators confirmed years worth of sexual misconduct, was quietly kept on the state payroll as an employee at the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs. He's not been allowed to return to the office, but has been collecting his $136,000 yearly salary.

The issue in both of these cases are civil service rules attached to both of these men's positions that make it extremely difficult to fire people no matter how bad the conduct. 

The good news is that in response to both of these stories, officials with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration have vowed that they will work with the Legislature to reform these rules, and also make sure the two men who engaged in this egregious conduct won't ever return to a state workplace.

Ultimately, though, the governor and the Legislature must do much more than use tough words and hold compelling hearings. Concrete action that forces state government supervisors to act on complaints in an expeditious and transparent manner is essential. Otherwise, we'll likely end up with more high-profile hearings with new slates of survivors telling their stories, which would be a clear signal that Albany has failed us.

The Citizen editorial board includes interim publisher Thomas Salvo, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.

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