Cuomo’s Non-Apology Apology Raises a Red Flag
The most astonishing thing about the recent allegations of sexual harassment against NY Governor Andrew Cuomo is that one of the two staffers (Charlotte Bennett) accused him of sexually harassing her just last year. Where has he been since the revelations against Harvey Weinstein were first made in October 2017?
Given that most victims of sexual harassment are reluctant to go public with their allegations and there may not be a record of the comments on social media or elsewhere, so there is no evidence of the inappropriate comments, it’s important to note that Bennett’s allegations were made to others including the Governor’s chief of staff and friends and family members. She didn’t wait years to go public. It makes the allegations that much more credible.
The fact that a second administration aide (Lindsey Boylan) had made similar charges about inappropriate comments and touching behavior just days earlier indicates a pattern of harassment. Who knows how many more staffers may come out now that the story has gone public? Cuomo’s non-apology apology was to claim the staffers misunderstood what he said, rationalizing his unethical actions and dismissing them as “playful” jokes and teasing employees in a “good-natured way.” This shows that he doesn’t take such matters seriously.
Cuomo reluctantly agreed to have an independent review so that an investigation can reveal the truth. He is quoted as saying:
“I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate. The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported. This situation cannot and should not be resolved in the press; I believe the best way to get to the truth is through a full and thorough outside review and I am directing all state employees to comply with that effort. I ask all New Yorkers to await the findings of the review so that they know the facts before making any judgements. I will have no further comment until the review has concluded."
The culture of an organization says a lot about whether it tolerates inappropriate behavior. A trust-based organization builds relationships and promotes responsible behavior at all levels of the organization. It starts with ethical leaders who set an ethical tone at the top. The current situation facing Governor Cuomo should be a cautionary tale for leaders and their organizations to investigate sexual harassment allegations immediately and send a signal to others in the organization that sexual harassment charges will be taken seriously. They can’t just sweep it under the rug.
The takeaway from the Cuomo matter is that superiors should keep an arms-length between themselves and employees and think twice before they make comments of a personal nature. A good rule is to ask yourself: How would I feel if my comments and behaviors were discussed in the newspapers or on social media? Would I proud of it? Can I defend it? Any hesitation by the doer raises a red flag that inappropriate behavior may have occurred.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on March 3, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.