A former state Department of Motor Vehicles employee has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging she was sexually harassed by one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s former top-level political appointees.
In court documents filed in Manhattan federal court on Saturday, Lisa Marie Cater of Buffalo alleges the Cuomo administration repeatedly ignored her complaints against William “Sam” Hoyt, the former regional president of the state’s economic development agency, including allegations that he groped her.
Cuomo’s chief counsel, Alphonso David, said in a statement Sunday that the state has “launched 3 separate investigations into this matter, and any assertion to the contrary is patently and demonstrably false.”
Hoyt’s attorney, Terrence M. Connors of Buffalo, said his client “has previously acknowledged and expressed regret for a short term, consensual relationship with Ms. Cater,” but called the allegations in her lawsuit “inconsistent.”
“If she persists with this lawsuit, we will seek dismissal at the earliest stage,” Connors said in an email.
Cater, 51, alleges in her lawsuit that the “barrage” of sexual harassment started soon after October 2015 when Hoyt, 55, a high-level officer at Empire State Development, offered to help her secure an apartment and a state job after she sought help from the agency.
In February 2016, Hoyt helped Cater get a job as a secretary in a $30,000-a-year position at an Erie County DMV office, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges Hoyt would call or text her “every single night,” often with threats that the job he helped secure could be “taken away with a single phone call,” if she did not comply with his demands.
In February 2016, Hoyt texted a nude photo of himself to Cater, according to the lawsuit, asking her “Do you think I look tan?” In court documents, Cater claims she “began to shake uncontrollably after receiving this text, adding to her symptoms of depression and anxiety.”
In August 2016, after Cater complained to Hoyt once again about his actions, he allegedly grabbed her crotch and said “You know this is what I want!” according to the lawsuit.
Cater complained to Cuomo’s office by phone, email and Facebook but either received no response or a response that was “deliberately indifferent,” according to the lawsuit.
David said in a statement: “When Ms. Cater reported a complaint regarding Mr. Hoyt, per protocol it was immediately referred to the State Employee Relations Office (GOER) for an investigation. At the same time Mr. Hoyt was instructed to have no further interaction with the complainant and to cooperate fully with the investigation. Mr. Hoyt did not supervise or work in the same agency as Ms. Cater.”
David said Cater did not comply with repeated attempts by the inspector general’s office to be interviewed or provide documentation.
At a news conference in lower Manhattan on Sunday, Cater’s attorney Paul Liggieri, said his client stopped cooperating with state investigators once it became clear to her that Hoyt was aware he was being investigated.
Cater spoke briefly at the news conference, telling reporters: “It has been very difficult for me to come forward with this.”