A former state Department of Motor Vehicles employee has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging she was sexually harassed over the course of a year by one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s former top level political appointees.
In court documents filed in Manhattan federal court on Saturday, Lisa Marie Carter, of Buffalo, alleges the Cuomo administration repeatedly ignored her complaints against William “Sam” Hoyt, the former regional president of the state’s economic development agency, including allegations that he groped her and “relentlessly pursued” her with unwanted “sexual advances.”
Cuomo’s chief counsel, Alphonso David, said in a statement Sunday the state has “launched 3 separate investigations into this matter, and any assertion to the contrary is patently and demonstrably false.”
Hoyt’s attorney Terrence Conors of Buffalo did not respond to a request for comment.
Cater, 51, alleges in her lawsuit that the “barrage” of sexual harassment started soon after October 2015 when Hoyt, 55, a high level officer at the Empire State Development Corp. offered to help her secure an apartment and a state job after she sought help from the agency through on its website.
The agency is typically tasked with steering millions of dollars in taxpayer money to large-scale business development projects, not personal housing issues, but Hoyt, a married former state assemblyman, responded to Cater’s request for help locating affordable housing, according to the lawsuit.
In November 2015 Hoyt allegedly “showed up unexpectedly,” at Cater’s apartment and “unlawfully groped” and kissed her, leaving her in “a state of shock.” The lawsuit states she “took on a go along to get along disposition,” because she was fearful that not doing so would “strip her of any opportunity to work.”
Hoyt helped Cater secure an apartment and in February 2016 helped her get a job as a secretary in a $30,000-a-year position at an Erie County DMV office without her going through an application or interview process, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges Hoyt used the job as leverage over Cater, noting that he would call or text her “every single night,” often with threats that the job he helped secure could be “taken away with a single phone call.”
In February 2016, Hoyt texted a nude photo of himself to Cater, according to the lawsuit, asking her “Do you think I look tan?” Cater “began to shake uncontrollably after receiving this text, adding to her symptoms of depression and anxiety,” according to the lawsuit.
In August 2016, after Cater complained to Hoyt about the impact his actions were having on her mental health, he allegedly grabbed her crotch “squeezing as hard as he could,” and said “You know this is what I want!” according to the lawsuit.
“Scared, helpless and knowing that her job (only source of income) was on the line, Plaintiff Cater endured Defendant Hoyt’s behavior despite being on the brink of a nervous breakdown,” the lawsuit states.
Cater complained to Cuomo’s office several times — including two calls to his office, an email to the address listed on the governor’s website and via Facebook — but either received no response or a response that was “deliberately indifferent,” according to the lawsuit.
David said in a statement: “When Ms. Cater reported a complaint regarding Mr. Hoyt, per protocol it was immediately referred to the State Employee Relations Office (GOER) for an investigation. At the same time Mr. Hoyt was instructed to have no further interaction with the complainant and to cooperate fully with the investigation. Mr. Hoyt did not supervise or work in the same agency as Ms. Cater.”
“Based on interviews and evidence reviewed, GOER identified information that warranted further review by the Inspector General’s Office and referred the matter accordingly,” David said, adding that Cater did not comply with repeated attempts by the Inspector General’s office to be interviewed or provide documentation.