ALBANY – Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak is being accused of sexually harassing three now-former legislative staffers, according to court papers filed Thursday.
Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, is the subject of three separate complaints by former aides, all in their 20s, who accuse him of making repeated sexually charged comments and suggestions to female staffers and, in the case of one, bringing her to a massage parlor in her first two weeks on the job.
The allegations include claims that Gabryszak told one female staffer he has a tattoo on his penis and that he showered one woman with gifts and offered her a well-paying job in Buffalo after learning that she had become engaged – a revelation that allegedly upset the assemblyman.
Within hours of the allegations surfacing, Gabryszak was already losing key Democratic Party support. “If these allegations are even close to being true, the Assembly member should resign immediately and spare the community from further embarrassment,’’ said Jeremy Zellner, the chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party.
The allegations of sexual harassment are contained in an explosive document filed in the State Court of Claims, a legal maneuver that for one year preserves the women’s right to sue the state for damages.
The papers were served on the state Attorney General’s office, which represents the state in legal matters, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, according to Johnny Destino, a Niagara Falls lawyer representing the three women.
Besides the three women in Thursday’s court filing, “a minimum of two additional former employees’’ of the lawmaker “will be coming forward in the near future and will be bringing allegations similar to those’’ of the three women, he said.
Destino said his clients would not be available for interviews. “All we’re prepared to do is confirm we did file the notice of claim,’’ he said this morning.
Gabryszak, 62, was first elected to the Assembly in 2006. His official biography states that he has been married to his wife for 37 years and has two children.
Gabryszak did not answer his cellphone this morning and did not return a call seeking comment.
The allegations, first reported by the Albany Times Union, will at the very least be referred to a legislative ethics panel to investigate.
The case is just the latest in a long string of cases brought by former Albany aides, usually female, who say they were mistreated or sexually harassed by their Assembly or Senate bosses.
Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Silver, said this morning that the speaker’s office was never notified by the three former staffers of any of the allegations involving Gabryszak. But later, Whyland said the allegations against Gabryzak are being sent to the Assembly ethics committee for an investigation. “The Assembly is committed to a safe and respectful work environment for all its employees and we take all allegations very seriously,’’ he said.
Silver ordered a new policy that if his office is told of any such allegations they will be immediately referred to the Assembly ethics committee to investigate. That change came after Silver negotiated a once-secret settlement deal involving a sexual harassment case against a former assemblyman from Brooklyn.
The legal filing, obtained this morning by The Buffalo News, states the women were “subjected to a hostile and offensive work environment’’ by their employers – Gabryszak, the Assembly and the state of New York.
“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 suffer emotional distress and mental anguish as a result of their dealings with the lawmaker.
Annalise Freling, 28, who served as Gabryszak’s communications director, alleged the assemblyman told her she aroused him and he would comment to her about women’s anatomy and about going to strip clubs. She said the assemblyman would ask her to get information on his cellphone or iPad, where she found pictures of naked women and escort service information, according to a set of attachments to the legal filing obtained by The News. The woman quit her job, which paid $34,000 a year, last March.
The sexual comments started within a month of her being hired, the woman alleges. Gabryszak allegedly 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, Gabryszak 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 the woman 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, the woman, who lives in Western New York, 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 occurring 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.
The lawmaker also sent her a Facebook message, it is alleged, with a sexual reference about the looks of a downstate Republican assemblywoman. In 2012, at an event called by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Gabryszak told the woman, she alleges, that she was hot and that he was having an erection. She stormed off after asking him to stop.
On the evening of a gun rights dinner last March, the woman said she spilled mocha on her dress and she notified the lawmaker 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.
Kimberly Snickles, who replaced Freling as communications director after she quit this spring, lasted in the job only until October. She said Gabryszak 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 while they accompanied him to official events.
He also told her which body parts on women he preferred over others and on several occasions invited her to stay at his Albany apartment.
Last 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 court documents state. And while walking in a parade in June back in his district, he asked the woman as they passed a set of train tracks if she would “like to be tied up to them.’’ The notice of claim document states that the woman notified Adam Locher, the lawmaker’s chief of staff, about the problems. “Rather than report the claimant’s concerns to the assemblyman, Mr. Locher told the claimant that ‘he didn’t want to be a part of a sexual harassment complaint’ and that ‘she should talk with the assemblyman herself.’ ’’ She allegedly tried to make an appointment for the next day but it appears
Locher “tipped off’’ Gabryszak and the lawmaker failed to show for the meeting.
When she said she was resigning in the middle of October, and told Locher it was because of the lawmaker’s actions, the chief of staff told her that he did not blame her and “apologized on behalf of the assemblyman,’ ’’ the complaint alleges.
The third woman, Jamie Campbell, 24, who served as Gabryszak’s legislative director for three years until Oct. 25, was allegedly made to routinely feel uncomfortable by the assemblyman; she stated that he gave her gifts and became upset if she declined his advances. She was assigned to his Albany office, but on six occasions she was required to go to his Cheektowaga office. But, she said, there was never any work for her to do in the district office and her only duties entailed going out to lunch and dinner with Gabryszak.
While “no invitation was ever made,’’ the lawmaker would routinely walk her to her hotel room and find reasons not to walk away. “This made her feel extremely uncomfortable and fearful for her personal safety,’’ the papers state. He would also regularly ask her to go for massages with him, and offered her gifts, including a Coach bag, which she refused.
The woman said the lawmaker also leaned over to be close to her while she worked at her desk, forcing her to push her chair backward to nudge him away, the papers allege.
Gabryszak also regularly asked her to move from Albany to Western New York. But she told him she had become engaged and she bought a house in the Capital District with the man. He told her she “didn’t need a financé’’ 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 photo of himself in a sexually suggestive pose.
The woman also brought her concerns to Locher, the court papers state, but his response was that he ‘worried about the things that Dennis would do or say.’ ’’
The first woman in the complaint also notified Locher, her supervisor, of the lawmaker’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.”