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New York State has paid millions to settle sex harassment, discrimination lawsuits in past decade

Icky academics, pervy professors and sexist scholars have cost the state millions of dollars in legal settlements, records show.

In the past 10 years, the state has paid at least $2.4 million to settle 19 lawsuits involving allegations of sex harassment, sex assault or sex discrimination at SUNY or CUNY colleges, according to records obtained from the state attorney general’s office.

City University of New York colleges accounted for nine of the settlements, while State University of New York schools made up the other 10.

But the bad behavior didn’t just happen at institutes of higher learning.

In the past decade, the state settled at least 85 lawsuits involving claims of sex harassment or sex discrimination at agencies, hospitals, prisons and schools it oversees. The settlements cost the state a combined $11.87 million.

The Daily News obtained copies of the settlements through a Freedom of Information Law request.

Many of the SUNY and CUNY workers who received payouts accused campus intellectuals of lewd behavior.

An executive assistant to an associate provost at CUNY’s Lehman College in the Bronx got a $130,000 settlement in 2014 after accusing her boss of forcing her to show him her breasts and to perform oral sex on him in his office shortly after she started her job in 2010.

The boss, Robert Whittaker, also repeatedly rubbed his genitalia on her while she worked and he sent her loony love notes, she claimed in the lawsuit.

One time, while driving her home, Whittaker asked her to massage his bald head so he could feel like they were a married couple, the lawsuit said.

The assistant said she was retaliated against and ultimately lost her job in 2012 because she stopped consenting to Whittaker’s sexual advances and sought help from administrators about the harassment.

Whittaker, who made $150,500 a year as a provost, died in 2016.

A tenured Queens College professor received a $275,000 settlement after she filed a lawsuit against the school and its theater department chairman.

She said the chairman, Charles Repole, intimidated and threatened her and other female faculty members.

During one meeting, Repole erupted in rage, circling the professor and shaking “his fists within an inch of her face,” her lawsuit said.

A Queens College professor received a $275,000 settlement after she filed a lawsuit against the school and its theater department chairman. Many of the SUNY and CUNY workers who received payouts accused campus intellectuals of lewd behavior.

Repole also referred to female faculty as “girls” while men were called professors, according to the lawsuit. He was also accused of giving male faculty members lighter course loads than their female counterparts.

The female professor left Queens College in 2010 and filed a discrimination lawsuit shortly after her departure. She told the Daily News that female faculty members in her department complained to CUNY about women being treated poorly, but the college system didn’t help.

“They all came together several times and gave their stories to the university and the university did nothing,” she said. “They buried it.”

The professor, who has worked in academia for 37 years, including 11 with CUNY, described Queens College as “an old boys’ club.” She also said that the nine settlements involving CUNY was an unusually high number.

“At another school, that (number) would be just absurd,” she said.

Repole, who is now retired, did not respond to a request for comment, but he denied the accusations in legal filings.

In another case, a former assistant in CUNY’s payroll department received a $10,000 settlement in 2013 after she sued the school system, saying her sexist male boss spoke openly in the office about rape victims getting what they deserved.

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The boss frequently read aloud from newspaper articles about criminal cases that involved female victims.

After reciting a story about a model who was murdered and found in a suitcase, the boss told people in the office, “getting raped was good for her” and “they found her in the trash where she belonged.”

CUNY spokesman Frank Sobrino said the school system has enacted policies in the past three years to better protect students and employees from sexual harassment and has been working closely with law enforcement.

“To be clear, the university has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and has taken action to help ensure our campuses have procedures and practices that offer a safe environment for all students and employees,” he said.

SUNY said in a statement that it has ongoing partnerships with government agencies and nonprofits to develop better anti-harassment policies, resources and training.

“Prevention of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination is a top priority,” SUNY said.

The 85 settlements obtained by The News show that sex harassment and sex discrimination have plagued many state agencies — even the one charged with protecting against discrimination.

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The Division of Human Rights paid $75,000 in 2017 to a provisional employee who filed a lawsuit saying she was a victim of sex discrimination because she was terminated for being pregnant.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision had the most settlements for a state agency. It settled 15 lawsuits between 2008 and 2017 for a total of $4.88 million.

One settlement, for $400,000 in 2016, went to a female employee at the Watertown Correctional Facility who accused a superintendent of giving her unwanted hugs and kisses, and grew enraged when she rejected his sexual advances.

The largest settlement was for $1.79 million to a former cook at the Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility who said her boss sexually harassed and threatened her.

Gov. Cuomo’s office said it takes sexual harassment allegations seriously and that it’s dedicated to making private and public offices safe work spaces.

His office also said that while the 85 settlements were reached in the past decade, many of the lawsuits that led to the payouts started years earlier.

Cuomo recently proposed a comprehensive package to battle sexual harassment, including creating a uniform code for all branches of state government and prohibiting confidentiality agreements.

The governor addressed the need to bolster anti-harassment laws at a speech on Long Island on Friday.

“There has been a rash of women who have spoken up about sexual harassment, and I actually think that is a great thing,” he said. “I think this is a moment where we can actually make reforms that should have been made decades ago.”

source: nydaily

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