By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York State has agreed to pay $545,000 to settle lawsuits brought by two women who said their boss, former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, sexually harassed them and that then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver created a culture in which such misconduct was tolerated.
Lopez agreed to pay an additional $35,000 in the settlement, which was revealed in court papers on Thursday and resolves both state and federal claims filed against Lopez, Silver and the state assembly.
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“We hope our ordeal will serve as a strong reminder to New York's legislators that they are accountable for their behavior,” the women, Victoria Burhans and Chloe Rivera, said in a joint statement. “All women should be treated with respect and dignity, not as sex objects or as problems to be handled and silenced.”
Silver was arrested Jan. 22 on unrelated federal corruption charges and relinquished his powerful position as speaker, although he continues to serve as a legislator.
Lopez did not admit to wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
"By agreeing to pay a very modest amount to resolve the case, he admits absolutely no wrongdoing or liability, and maintains steadfastly that the material allegations against him in this case were not true," his lawyer, Lyle Zuckerman, said in an email.
A lawyer for Silver, who also did not admit wrongdoing, did not respond to a request for comment.
Lopez, a once-influential Democratic boss in Brooklyn, resigned in 2013 following a series of accusations from former women staffers that he harassed and groped them. The assembly censured him in 2012 after a report detailed numerous allegations against Lopez of verbal and physical harassment.
Silver had previously helped broker a secret settlement with two other accusers, using $103,000 in public funds. He apologized after the deal became known.
Burhans and Rivera asserted in their federal lawsuit that by refusing to conduct investigations into Lopez’s conduct earlier, Silver fostered an environment in which sexual harassment was seen as permissible.
Burhans claimed Lopez, 73, asked her to spend the night with him in the governor’s mansion and suggested she sleep with a member of the governor’s staff to get legislation passed.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Grant McCool)