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Long IslandPolitics

Many state sex harassment cases involve prisons

Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn)

Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) Credit: Bryan Pace, 2001

ALBANY -- Nearly half the sexual-harassment cases settled by the state since 2008 involved state prisons, according to documents released Friday.

The state attorney general's office released five more settlements in response to a Freedom of Information Law request. The state paid $248,000 to end those cases.

The records, combined with cases disclosed earlier this week, show the state has paid $5.5 million in taxpayers' funds to settle 20 sexual-harassment lawsuits during the past five years.

The records were released in the wake of a controversial $135,000 settlement of sexual-harassment claims against Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn).

Lopez was censured last month after two female former staffers accused him of trying to force contact. Subsequently, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) disclosed that two other women had previously made similar charges and that he approved a confidential payment -- $103,000 of it taxpayers' money -- to end the case. Silver since has said he mishandled the case and should have sent it to an ethics committee hearing.

The tumult has sparked a civil inquiry by the state's ethics panel, and a criminal probe by a special prosecutor.

Nine of the sexual-harassment cases disclosed this week involved claims against the state Department of Corrections. The highest-paying case -- $1.8 million -- involved a cook at a Chautauqua County facility who said women had been barred from advancing to a head cook job.

Another lawsuit was filed by an inmate who collected $300,000 for an alleged improper frisk by a prison guard.

Several other cases involved the State University of New York and the City University of New York. One was filed by a former State Senate employee.

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