Ex-aide sues Cuomo, DeRosa over alleged sexual harassment

A former assistant to ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo filed a discrimination suit against him Wednesday — that alleges he once joked about getting investigated for sexual harassment over an incident involving her.

Charlotte Bennett’s Manhattan federal court filing claims that during a June 5, 2020, meeting in Cuomo’s office, he made a crack about how watching her COVID-19 mask move when she breathed reminded him of the monsters in the movie ‘”Predator.”

After Bennett “laughed uncomfortably,” Cuomo allegedly foresaw the consequences.

“If I were investigated for sexual harassment, I would have to say I told her she looked like a monster,” he said, according to the suit.

Bennett’s suit, which seeks unspecified damages, alleges that Cuomo repeatedly subjected her to humiliating sexual harassment and tried to smear her as a liar when she went public.

It also targets former Cuomo top lieutenant Melissa DeRosa and two other aides who allegedly “aided and abetted” him.

“My career as a public servant was abruptly cut short because of Governor Cuomo’s and his top aides’ sexual harassment and retaliation against me after I complained about Governor Cuomo’s misconduct,” Bennett said in a prepared statement.

“They must all be held accountable for their actions.”

Charlotte Bennett, a former health policy aide to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, speaks during an interview in New York on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021.
Former aide Charlotte Bennett is suing former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his former secretary Melissa DeRosa over their alleged sexually harassing behavior.
AP Photo/John Minchillo

In February 2021, Bennett, then 25, became the second woman to publicly accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment, telling the New York Times that he asked her creepy questions about her sex life, including whether she engaged in open relationships or ever slept with older men.

Bennett went on to become one of Cuomo’s most outspoken accusers, calling him a “danger” to women and demanding that he be impeached “immediately” after Attorney General Letitia James released a bombshell report alleging that he harassed Bennett and 10 other women.

Cuomo, 64, has consistently denied any wrongdoing, but resigned in disgrace a week after James issued her report, saying that a fight to remain in office would “cost the taxpayers millions of dollars” and “brutalize people.”

Charlotte Bennett was intervewed by Nora O'Donnell of CBS over Andrew Cuomo’s alleged sexual harassment.
Charlotte Bennett was interviewed by Nora O’Donnell of CBS over Andrew Cuomo’s alleged sexual harassment.

Bennett’s suit was filed one day after Cuomo filed a professional-misconduct complaint against James and the outside lawyers she hired to investigate him.

Bennett’s 60-page complaint alleges when she worked for Cuomo between May 2019 and June 2020, he “subjected her to sexualized comments about her appearance, assigned her humiliating and demeaning tasks, and beginning in early June 2020, subjected her to invasive and unwanted questions about her personal life, romantic and sexual relationships, and history as a survivor of sexual assault.”

“He told her he was ‘lonely,’” wanted a girlfriend who lived in Albany, and was willing to date someone over the age of 21 years old,” the suit says.

“Cuomo’s comments and behavior were unwelcome and Ms. Bennett reasonably perceived them to constitute a sexual advance.”

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned last year after New York Attorney General Letitia James released a scathing report on his sexual misconduct allegations.
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned last year after New York Attorney General Letitia James released a scathing report on allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
James Messerschmidt

Bennett says she “promptly” complained to Cuomo’s then-chief of staff, co-defendant Judith DesRosiers. But instead of “taking appropriate corrective measures,” DesRosiers transferred Bennett to an “inferior position” on Cuomo’s health policy team.

Neither DesRosiers nor Judith Mogul, Cuomo’s special counsel at the time, interviewed Bennett until after she told other colleagues about Cuomo’s alleged harassment, either, according to the suit.

In addition, DesRosiers, Mogul and DeRosa allegedly violated state policy by failing to refer Bennett’s complaint to the Government Office of Employee Relations.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo addresses the press at his 633 Third Avenue office in Manhattan, NY on August 2, 2021.
Charlotte Bennett accused Melissa DeRosa (above) of enabling Andrew Cuomo’s sexual harassment.
James Messerschmidt

The three are also accused of “maintaining and contributing to an office environment” where women were pressured to wear “traditionally feminine attire, including dresses and high heels,” whenever Cuomo was around.

Bennett’s suit says that her treatment caused “near-debilitating anxiety” and “symptoms of depression” and that she “began suffering from a chronic neurological disorder” that forced her to take medical leave and an “involuntary resignation.”

Bennett also alleges that Cuomo retaliated against her for cooperating with the AG’s probe, saying he “used his media platform to portray her as a liar.”

After James released her report, Cuomo continued his retaliation campaign against Bennett “by smearing her reputation and otherwise attempting to discredit her during press conferences” and on his campaign website, the suit says.

“In carrying out this smear campaign, Governor Cuomo and his aides enlisted the assistance of his brother, Chris Cuomo, then an anchor on CNN, and others,” according to court papers.

In a prepared statement, Cuomo’s lawyer, Rita Glavin, said he “has always said he didn’t harass anyone and with each day that goes by more and more information is uncovered showing how evidence favorable to [Cuomo] was suppressed and crucial facts ignored or omitted that undermined witness credibility.”

“What else will come out during the discovery process?  We’ll see them in court,” she added.

The other defendants didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

The woman who first accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, former state economic development official Lindsey Boylan, called Bennett “brave” and a “warrior” for deciding to sue the former Democratic governor.

“I feel nothing but immense love and profoundly grounded when women assert themselves and fight back,” Boylan tweeted.

“It is a win for all women.”