New York state will pay $545,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by two former legislative staffers who say they were sexually harassed by their boss, former Democratic Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
Lopez agreed to pay an additional $35,000 as part of the settlement, which was announced Thursday by the attorney representing the two women. They had sued Lopez, the Assembly and former Speaker Sheldon Silver, arguing that Silver created an environment in which harassment was covered up and tolerated.
"We hope our ordeal will serve as a strong reminder to New York's legislators that they are accountable for their behavior," the two women, Victoria Burhans and Chloe Rivera, said in a statement. "All women should be treated with respect and dignity, not as sex objects or as problems to be handled and silenced."
The once-powerful Lopez, who resigned in 2013, continues to deny that he mistreated the women.
"By agreeing to pay a very modest amount to resolve the case, he admits absolutely no wrongdoing or liability, and maintains steadfastly that the material allegations against him in this case were not true," his attorney, Lyle Zuckerman, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "However, he is glad to have put this litigation behind him."
The two women accused Lopez of inappropriate verbal and physical conduct. The AP does not usually identify people who say they're victims of sexual harassment unless they agree to be identified or come forward, as Burhans and Rivera have done.
Silver had been criticized for using $103,000 in public money to quietly settle earlier harassment claims against Lopez. Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, resigned his leadership post this week after he was charged with accepting nearly $4 million in kickbacks and payoffs. Silver has said he expects to be exonerated and is keeping his Assembly seat.
Reports from a special prosecutor and the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics detailed allegations that Lopez forced his hand up a woman's leg, tried to coerce women to share hotel rooms with him, asked them to touch tumors on his neck and required them to write flattering and flirtatious memos to him that he later tried to use to discredit their accusations.
The new settlement must be approved by state officials.