ALBANY – In May 2012, Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak stood with fellow lawmakers at the Capitol pushing legislation to crack down on bosses who harass their workers.
Some months later, Gabryszak, attending a Buffalo event led by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, allegedly told one of his young female staffers how good she looked and that he was having an erection. “You’re so hot, you know what I want to do with you,’’ she quoted him as saying to her.
That incident was among dozens of alleged inappropriate acts outlined in a disturbing set of legal papers filed in a state court in which three former female aides to the Cheektowaga Democrat allege he engaged in a regular pattern of sexual harassment.
Before the morning ended Friday, the case against the lawmaker had already been referred to a legislative ethics panel that could recommend his ouster from the Assembly. And later, one local top Democrat, Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner, was calling for his resignation.
The case against the frumpy 62-year-old Gabryszak, who has blazed few legislative trails since coming to the State Capitol in 2007, is remarkable even by Albany standards:
• He allegedly repeatedly asked the female staffers to stay overnight at his Albany apartment or in hotels on trips to New York City, asked two of them to wear bikinis to events and talked of having a tattoo on his penis.
• He was allegedly upset when one of his Albany-based female aides announced her engagement and said he’d bump her pay to $100,000 if she moved to Buffalo.
• He allegedly tried to get the women to go to massage parlors, shower them with gifts of Coach bags and pearls, and suggested he could fire one of them if he didn’t like the way she dressed.
The three women – Annalise Freling, Jamie Campbell and Kimberly Snickles – resigned between March and October this year. Their attorney, Johnny Destino of Niagara Falls, filed a notice of claim with the State Court of Claims, which handles financial claims against the state. They have one year to launch a formal civil lawsuit to recover what they say are lost wages and benefits after leaving what they said was a “hostile and offensive” work setting.
The women declined to comment Friday, and Destino would not answer any questions about the case. Legal papers in the case say at least two more former female members of Gabryszak’s staff will be revealing similar incidents against them by the assemblyman.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has come under fire for his secretive handling of a sexual harassment case against a former Brooklyn lawmaker, Friday immediately referred the case to the Assembly ethics committee; an outside investigator automatically begins a probe when such cases are brought to the panel.
There was no evidence in the 14-page legal filing that Silver or his aides knew about the Gabryszak situation, and a Silver spokesman said the first time anyone in the leader’s office heard about it was Thursday night.
The three women all allege that they took their concerns to Gabryszak’s chief of staff, Adam Locher, but that he either told them to ignore the problems or, in one case, look for another job; he did not return calls to comment Friday.
Gabryszak did not return calls to his cellphone or office phone.
The three women, all in their 20s who payroll records show made between $21,939 and $34,892 annually, rocked Albany on Friday with their allegations against Gabryszak, who has been married for 37 years and has two children.
“The behavior was so severe, persistent and pervasive that the claimants had no alternative other than to leave their employment,’’ the papers state, adding that it forced them to lose wages, health care insurance and other benefits. The papers said the three women suffered emotional distress and mental anguish as a result of dealings with Gabryszak.
Freling, who served for just over two years until April as Gabryszak’s communications director, alleged he told her she aroused him and talked about going to strip clubs. She said the assemblyman asked her to get information on his cellphone or iPad, where she found pictures of naked women and escort service information, the legal papers state.
Freling alleges Gabryszak threatened he could fire her for any reason and went on to say that “if he didn’t like the way she looked that day, he could dismiss her.’’ At one point, she said, he told her he only hired her “because she was pretty.’’ He also sent her a video, a court paper states, of himself in a bathroom “either receiving or pretending to be receiving fellatio.’’ Three other staffers saw the video, and Freling claimed she was so disgusted by what she saw that she immediately called the lawmaker to complain.
In 2011, when former President Bill Clinton came to Albany to give a speech, Freling, a Western New York resident, traveled to the State Capitol. But the lawmaker told her, the court paper states, that his office would not pay for a hotel room and that she could either stay at his apartment or sleep in the office. He also took her to a concert near the Capitol, but she asked to leave because it was clearly a “couples’ concert’’ that was being held on Valentine’s Day. They left, but went to a restaurant where the lawmaker attempted to give her a set of pearls. She declined, but he put them in her bag anyway.
Freling said Gabryszak also sent her a Facebook message with a sexual reference about the appearance of a downstate Republican assemblywoman. In 2012, at a Cuomo event in Buffalo, he made sexual remarks to her; she stormed off after asking him to stop.
On the evening of a gun-rights dinner in March, Freling said, she spilled mocha on her dress, and she notified Gabryszak she would be late for the event. He texted her back saying he wanted to “lick her’’ because she had mocha on her, she alleges. She said Gabryszak also would discuss his fondness for going to Albany strip clubs.
Snickles replaced Freling as communications director and lasted only until October.
She described a pattern of alleged harassment by the lawmaker, saying he took her to a massage parlor and made sexual comments. Gabryszak also suggested she share a room with him and allegedly suggested the woman and another female staffer wear bikinis to events and asked if they kissed in the back seat of his car while they accompanied him to official events.
He also told Snickles which body parts on women he preferred over others and on several occasions invited her to stay at his Albany apartment. In June, in the waning days of the 2013 session, “The assemblyman told her and one of his interns a joke about him ‘having a tattoo on his penis,’ ’’ the papers state. He even allegedly made a suggestive remark while he was marching in a local parade in June.
Snickles says she notified Locher, the chief of staff and her boss, about Gabryszak. He responded that he “didn’t want to be a part of a sexual harassment complaint.’’
Campbell, an Albany-area woman who served as Gabryszak’s legislative director for three years until Oct. 25, said she was routinely left feeling uncomfortable following encounters with the lawmaker, including requests that she accompany him for massages. She said he gave her gifts, including a Coach bag, which she refused, and he became upset if she declined his advances to socialize with him.
Campbell said she was ordered to work in his Cheektowaga office six times, with no duties other than going to lunch and dinner with him; he would walk her to hotel room and “find reasons not to walk away,’’ which, she alleged, left her feeling “uncomfortable and fearful for her personal safety.’’
Gabryszak also asked her to move from Albany to Western New York. But she told him she had become engaged and had bought a house in the Capital District with the man. He told her she “didn’t need a fiancé’’ and offered her a $100,000 salary to move to the Buffalo area. She also alleges he made sexually suggestive remarks to her and sent her a sexually suggestive video of himself, the court papers state.
Freling also notified Locher of Gabryszak’s alleged behavior. She was told, the court documents state, “Dennis could get carried away from time to time and to ignore him” and that if she didn’t like what was going on “she could always look for another job.’’
Gabryszak’s campaign finance account did not show any evidence of purchases for expensive gifts that the women said he tried to offer them, though in the past year his campaign lists $2,622 in unspecified expenses.
Lobbyists and lawmakers say the Cheektowaga lawmaker has had a relatively large proportion of female staffers and interns over the years. Vouchers with the State Comptroller’s Office show the travel expenses a lawmaker incurs when the Assembly is not in session, but the spreadsheets do not state where Gabryszak traveled during those nonsession periods. Records show he was reimbursed for $40,712 since April 2012 on mileage and per diems.