There’s a reason the Department of Education has so many unsubstantiated complaints of sexual harassment, Mayor de Blasio said Tuesday — many of its employees make things up.
Just seven of 471 sexual harassment complaints filed at the department since 2013 have been substantiated — and asked for an explanation, de Blasio said he’d put it “gently.”
“There has been a history, it’s pretty well-known inside the education world, of some people bringing complaints of one type or another for reasons that may not have to do with the specific issue — and this is not just about sexual harassment it’s about a whole host of potential infractions,” de Blasio said.
He said the city takes very seriously “any sincere reporting” of problems, from sexual harassment to cheating on tests, but insisted DOE employees toss around fake accusations at one another.
De Blasio appoints Rev. Frederick Davie as new CCRB chair
“It is a known fact that unfortunately there’s been a bit of a hyper-complaint dynamic, sometimes for the wrong reasons,” he said. “I think that has inflated the numbers.”
The skeptical comments fly in the face of the message of the popular #MeToo movement — focused on believing women when they say they’ve been harassed and assaulted and pushing back against accusations that women make up such claims for attention or other supposed benefits.
They also came on the very day de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, was holding an event dubbed “No More Silence: What’s Next in the #MeToo and #TimesUp Movements.”
Carrie Goldberg, an attorney who specializes in sexual harassment and victims rights who is litigating a number of cases against the DOE for gender discrimination, ripped the comments.
De Blasio donor probe ballooned to include alleged drug dealer
“It is horrifying that on the very day the mayor’s wife is hosting a #TimesUp event at Gracie Mansion honoring sexual violence awareness, de Blasio declares that the DOE employees who make sexual harassment complaints are liars and motivated by revenge,” she said. “Targets of sexual harassment sacrifice everything to come forward — it’s disruptive to their careers, the bureaucratic process is miserable and time-consuming.”
De Blasio cast doubt on the sexual harassment claims while standing alongside his new Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. In March the Daily News reported Carranza was at the center of a sex discrimination lawsuit that was settled for $75,000 in 2016, before he took the city’s top education job April 2.
Carranza, 51, was not named as a defendant in the case, but the suit alleged he ruined the career of a female educator in San Francisco after she called him out for flirting with a female colleague while Carranza was the city’s superintendent in 2013.
Carranza denied the charges.
De Blasio urged to improve transit plan for L train shutdown
De Blasio has said the claims in that suit were false, even though no one from his office contacted the woman who brought the suit or her attorney.
Pressed Wednesday on whether he was saying the hundreds of employees filing sexual harassment complaints were lying, de Blasio seemed to backpedal — insisting he was talking about a “wide range of infractions,” among which “some are absolutely sincere” and all are investigated.
“Some people inappropriately make complaints for other reasons. Not just — I’m not even sure it’s ever about sexual harassment,” de Blasio said, despite raising the issue when asked about sexual harassment. “But it is a part of the culture and it has to be addressed separately.”
But moments later, the mayor again said he thought the culture of false reporting fed into the sexual harassment numbers — before pivoting back to the #MeToo movement.
Council Speaker slams slow progress of supportive housing plan
“I’m saying based on what we know, we believe it’s probably a contributing factor. But it’s also the past,” de Blasio said. “The MeToo movement and all the other related movements have, to their great credit, required of all of us that we come up with a single strong common standard, and we will now have the same for the entire government.”
The mayor eventually walked his comments back further on Twitter, quoting a Daily News reporter’s summation of his comments and added: “Let me be clear, every single person who has the courage to come forward with a sexual harassment complaint deserves to be believed.”
Council Speaker Corey Johnson called the low number of substantiated complaints “shocking.” And while the mayor said the DOE’s reporting culture was “well-known,” it wasn’t to Johnson.
As for the mayor’s comments about the DOE’s “hyper-complaint dynamic,” Johnson said, “I don’t know what that means.”
Councilman urges de Blasio to fund lawyers for low-wage workers
United Federation of Teachers head Michael Mulgrew pushed back against the mayor’s comments.
“Our teachers have a tough enough job that they don’t have time to make frivolous claims,” he said.
Goldberg, the attorney, noted those reporting harassment risk not being believed, losing jobs or promotions and being ostracized — and that research shows “very few people” file frivolous reports. The cultural problem, she argued, was with those investigating the claims.
“Clearly they have a vested interest — avoiding litigation — in finding that there was no harassment. It’s a cover up,” she said.
Going forward, the city will now have a single sexual harassment policy for all agencies — previously, the Department of Education, New York City Housing Authority and Health + Hospitals had their own — and will retrain the entire city workforce.
The mayor did not offer any specific reason as to why the culture at one particular agency would lend itself to people filing false complaints against co-workers.
“I’m just saying it’s a reality,” he said. “I can’t give you the sociological reasons. I am saying it is a reality we have to address.”
With Erin Durkin
Send a Letter to the Editor
JILLIAN JORGENSEN, BEN CHAPMAN