Lisa M. Cater’s lawsuit against New York State and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for allegedly ignoring her claims of sexual harassment by a former top state official should be dismissed, according to new papers filed in Manhattan U.S. District Court.
The motion filed by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s Office claims that neither the state nor Cuomo bear any responsibility for Cater’s claims that she was sexually harassed by Sam Hoyt, a former assemblyman and regional president of the Empire State Development Corporation whom Cater has also sued.
Schneiderman maintains Cater has no right to sue the state in federal court because of the 11th Amendment’s prohibitions against adjudicating violations of state law without congressional consent. He also said that Cuomo, for whom Hoyt served as a top political and governmental operative in Western New York, had no knowledge or any involvement in the harassment that Cater claims.
“Her allegations about the governor’s alleged involvement in this matter are merely conjecture and speculation,” the state maintains in a response filed by John M. Schwartz, the attorney general’s special litigation counsel. “Accordingly, the motion to dismiss should be granted.”
Cater told The Buffalo News in October that she and Hoyt were involved in a relationship that she wished to end, but that he insisted on continuing. After she said Hoyt harassed her and even groped her, Cater claims Hoyt paid her $50,000 to keep quiet.
After The News reported that Hoyt was leaving his $157,000 state job to pursue private sector employment, Cater came forward to offer her reasons for his departure.
Hoyt has acknowledged his relationship with Cater, but insists he first moved to end it and denies her groping allegations. He said he paid her the money to end the situation and spare embarrassment to his family.
Details of the situation became public in November when Cater filed suit in Manhattan federal court to seek unspecified damages.
But now Schwartz says Cater’s suit has no standing. He says the 11th Amendment prohibits any individual from suing a state in federal court without consent or a waiver of immunity.
“Here, it is undisputed that the State of New York has not given its consent, nor did Congress make an express waiver of immunity,” he responded in court papers.
In addition, the state maintains that while Cater alleges she complained to employees in the Governor’s Office by telephone, email and Facebook, she offers no proof that Cuomo was aware of the harassment claims nor the subsequent complaints.
“Plaintiff never alleges that the governor was personally aware of her complaints,” Schwartz responded, “much less that he was a direct participant in the acts complained of, or that he negligently or indifferently ignored them.”
The state addresses, however, Cater’s contention that Hoyt’s superiors instructed him “to make this go away.”
“If plaintiff’s allegation is meant to suggest that defendant Hoyt spoke to some unnamed person in the Governor’s Office it fails to show any personal involvement by the governor,” the state said. “If, on the other hand, it is intended to suggest that Hoyt claimed to have spoken to the governor directly, it could be interpreted as a direction to defendant Hoyt to make amends to plaintiff — an interpretation just as likely, if not more likely, than demonstrating a conspiracy.”
Throughout the case, Cuomo's office has pointed out that the state opened three separate investigations into Cater's complaints but that she did not cooperate. Cater's lawyer said in November she stopped communicating with state investigators because she felt no probe would turn out to be fair.
It is now expected that a federal judge in Manhattan will decide at a later date the merits of the state’s motion to dismiss and determine the future course of Cater’s suit.