State Paid $103,000 to Settle Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Vito Lopez

Lopez. Photo: New York State Assembly

Documents disclosed by the New York State Assembly Monday night reveal that Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver authorized a secret $103,080 payment on June 13 to settle sexual harassment claims against Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who was censured by Silver this past Friday over separate claims that he sexually harassed two women in his office this summer, the Times reports. The $103,080 worth of taxpayers' money does not represent the entirety of the settlement for those previous claims; Lopez also paid a portion of it either from his own pocket, campaign money, or with funds from nonprofits. None other than high-profile attorney Gloria Allred negotiated the settlement with the state on behalf of at least one and possibly two women.

On Friday, Silver wrote of the Assembly's ethics panel's findings about the recent allegations against 71-year-old Lopez: "There were multiple incidents of unwelcome physical conduct toward one complainant, wherein you put your hand on her leg, she removed your hand, and you then put your hand between her upper thighs, putting your hand as far up between her legs as you could go." 

But the ethics panel was not involved in the earlier matter. A spokesman for Silver said that the $103,000 settlement complied with the chamber's policy for handling sexual harassment, according to NBC New York. "The only instance in which a complaint would not be handled by the ethics committee would be if a victim insisted for reasons of personal privacy that it not go before the committee," said Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Silver. "The Assembly would only keep such a matter confidential at the express insistence of the victim."

Aside from the public funds, the Times reports that the case against the Democratic power broker was settled with "a confidentiality agreement and a mandatory sexual harassment workshop." 

A chorus of prominent New York officials have called on Lopez to resign since the censure Friday, including Governor Cuomo, Senator Charles Schumer, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

"The charges made against me are unfair and untrue," Lopez said in a statement Monday. "Never did I intentionally touch or attempt to kiss either of the complainants. I have never forced myself on anyone, nor would I ... I urge my friends and colleagues not to allow the media to determine a dedicated public servant’s fate. I have no intention of resigning and instead look forward to continuing to represent my constituents to the best of my ability."