After months of public pressure, the state legislature on Wednesday held its first hearing on sexual harassment in more than 25 years, with some giving emotional testimony on when they faced harassment while working for the legislature.
"Since leaving, I have suffered from PTSD, depression, and anxiety," former legislative aide Chloe Rivera said. "Employees should never be forced to choose between their privacy and their rights, or the rights of other workers, to have safe and harassment-free workplace."
Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders negotiated a new sexual harassment policy for the state.
Cuomo has frequently referred to the new law as "the strongest sexual harassment law in the nation," but four men privately negotiated the policy. For almost a year now, actual victims of sexual harassment have been pushing to have their testimony heard in public, with an eye toward drafting new legislation.
Some victims pointed to inadequate processes for filing complaints, including opaque internal guidelines. Eliyanna Kaiser served as chief of staff to former Assemblyman Micah Kellner, who she says created a hostile work environment.
"I consulted the Assembly handbook, a trusted Assembly colleague, and private counsel. At that time, the Assembly handbook contained no useful information for this situation," Kaiser said.
Elias Farah worked for former Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak, who was disciplined in 2016 for having a relationship with him. Farah said the media attention at the time still haunts him.
"It's my life, ok? It's not a scandal. It's not funny, it's not salacious. It's my life. It's not hot and exciting that I was harassed and retaliated against by my boss. In fact, it's the opposite: it's traumatic," Farah said.
It's unclear what new legislation, if any, the testimony may lead to. Cuomo said in a radio interview that he will sign any bills both houses of the legislature pass to improve the sexual harassment laws.