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Suffolk lawmakers press for details of sexual harassment complaints

The Suffolk County Legislature seal in the lobby

The Suffolk County Legislature seal in the lobby of the legislature building in Hauppauge is seen on Aug. 14, 2012. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

A Suffolk resolution to require the county attorney to detail the number of sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits, complaints and settlements since 2015 and track the statistics in the future will come up for a vote Tuesday at the county legislature.

The way was cleared for the vote after the resolution was approved unanimously Wednesday in the government operations committee.

“In light of the ever-increasing awareness on this issue, we have to be more proactive, dealing with a problem that should not be permitted in our workforce,” said Legis. William Lindsay III (D-Oakdale), a co-sponsor of the measure.

Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), the other co-sponsor, said it was important to determine the extent of existing problems. “We talk about fiscal responsibility — we need to know what kinds of settlements the county has made,” she said.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) said the measure has “widespread support” and expects passage, and Legis Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), GOP caucus leader, said he “thoroughly backs” the bill. Jason Elan, spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone, said Bellone also is a supporter.

New York State has paid more than $10 million over the past nine years to settle 88 cases of sexual harassment, discrimination and related cases, according to records obtained by Newsday under state Freedom of Information Law.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in his State of the State message, called for a ban on the use of taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment claims involving government entities and some private companies. He also backed public disclosure of settlements.

The Suffolk tracking measure is part of a package of bills aimed at combating sexual misconduct following widespread allegations of abuse in business, entertainment and government.

A second bill, approved in December, will require elected officials, department heads and deputies to take training every two years in how to deal with sexual harassment. A third measure that also comes up for a vote Tuesday would speed up distribution of material on workers’ rights to new hires.

The tracking resolution directs the director of labor relations to provide lawmakers with statistics on the number, type and disposition of employee disciplinary proceedings involving sexual harassment or discrimination for 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The resolution also instructs the county attorney to provide statistics on sexual harassment and discrimination claims filed against the county in court or before other administrative bodies.

The county attorney also would have to provide data on the settlement or disposition of those claims, including dollar amounts and sources of settlement funds.

By the start of 2019, county attorney and labor relation officials on an annual basis must provide lawmakers with similar statistics, by Feb. 28 of each year.

County Attorney Dennis Brown said he has no position on the tracking proposal but said the measure does “not pose an undue burden” on his office to comply.

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