14 sex-harassment payouts cost NY $1.2M

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ALBANY -- New York State paid more than $1.2 million to settle 14 sexual-harassment lawsuits filed in federal courts from 2007 to 2012, according to newly released documents.

The disclosure comes amid ongoing investigations of Assemb. Vito Lopez on allegations he sexually harassed four female employees in his office. The state paid $103,000 to two of his former staffers in a confidential settlement, which is now the subject of a state ethics inquiry.

The attorney general's office released the federal settlements in response to a Freedom of Information request filed by Newsday.

Previously, the office released documents showing that since 2008, New York has paid $5.5 million in taxpayers' funds to settle 20 sexual-harassment lawsuits filed against the state in state courts.

All but two of the federal cases were settled for relatively small amounts -- less than $65,000.

However, one lawsuit that targeted the state Office of Children and Family Services was settled for $650,000 in 2008. The settlement provides scant details but notes the woman suffered physical injuries.

Also, a 2011 settlement involving the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs required a $250,000 payment. Stony Brook University Hospital settled a case for $7,500 in 2012. Also that year, there was a $25,000 settlement in a case filed against seven employees of Farmingdale State College. The college itself wasn't named in the settlement.

The Lopez payouts have sparked a civil inquiry by the state's ethics panel and a criminal probe by a special prosecutor. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) approved the settlements to the ex-staffers but afterward admitted he erred by not sending the matter to the Legislative Ethics Commission first.

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