State to pay $545,000 to settle Lopez sexual harassment case - The Buffalo News

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State to pay $545,000 to settle Lopez sexual harassment case

ALBANY – Taxpayers will be on the hook to pay more than $500,000 to settle a disturbing sexual harassment case involving former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the onetime Albany political powerhouse and disgraced former boss of the Brooklyn Democratic Party.

To resolve the case brought by two former members of Lopez’s staff, the state will pay the women $545,000. Lopez is personally responsible for $35,000.

The state, through a deal already worked out several years ago in secret by former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, already paid two other women $103,000 to settle their sexual harassment claims against Lopez.

Lopez, who resigned in 2013 amid a swirl of headlines over his behavior, had been accused by a number of women who worked on his Assembly staff of asking young women to massage him, wear sexy clothing, touch his cancerous tumors and join him in hotel rooms.

Kevin Mintzer, a Manhattan attorney, announced the settlement Thursday on behalf of his two clients, Victoria Burhans and Chloe Rivera. He said the settlement resolves all outstanding federal and court actions the two women brought over the matter. He said the settlement follows several weeks of settlement talks that were supervised by Federal Magistrate Judge Michael H. Dolinger.

“After more than two years of investigation and litigation, we are pleased to have finally reached a resolution,’’ the two women said in a written statement released by their lawyer.

“We hope our ordeal will serve as a strong reminder to New York’s legislators that they are accountable for their behavior. All women should be treated with respect and dignity, not as sex objects or as problems to be handled and silenced. In a world where women are still not treated equally in the workplace, we hope that our actions give other victims the courage and strength to stand up for justice,’’ they added.

The two women declined to be interviewed.

Lopez could not immediately be reached for comment.

Officials with the state attorney general’s office, which had no role in the settlement talks, declined comment. A spokesman for the Democratic-run Assembly, where Lopez, 73, served from 1984 to 2013, was not immediately available.

After the secret settlement made by Silver in the first cases brought against Lopez, Silver in 2012 ousted Lopez from his chairmanship of the Assembly housing committee and banned interns from working for the lawmaker.

Lopez, nonetheless, was re-elected that fall, and he resigned the following spring after the Joint Commission on Public Ethics fined him $330,000 for what it said were sexual harassment incidents involving eight women who had worked on his staff.

Taxpayers aren’t just paying the new settlement costs. Legal representation for both Lopez and Silver in the affair has topped $1 million, media reports have said.


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