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Investigation ensues after allegations of sexual harassment in Westchester County

Corrections officer claims captain asked him if he was playing with his genitals; Department of Public Works employee says she was stalked

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WHITE PLAINS – FiOS1 News and The Journal News looked into how Westchester County investigates and handles claims of harassment and discrimination with county employees. Journal News investigative Reporter Mark Lungariello submitted a Freedom of Information request for records with the County Law Department.

"Are the county policies working really well or are they working poorly? It could be either one. It doesn't seem to be a huge uptick to coincide with the #MeToo movement," Lungariello said. "The human rights commission is investigating through an executive order by a previous county executive. So the question is on the legislative end: Do there need to be laws created? does there need to be more regulation on that level?"

The New York State Division of Human Rights said the number of harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination cases, in White Plains alone, has increased by 28 complaints from last year to this year. The organization oversees all the human rights commissions across New York.

Data collected by the Journal News uncovered that out of the 4,200 county employees of Westchester only six sexual harassment cases were filed since 2008.

Of six internal harassment and sex harassment cases reported within the county since 2012, two internal complaints found the human rights commission policy was violated. No payments have been made by the county on sexual harassment cases since 2008.

"There were not a huge number of investigations and there certainly weren't a lot of lawsuits, so are all of the incidents being reported and are all those incidents being reported, investigated," Journal News Investigative reporter Mark Lungariello said. "The question is does there need to be more regulation on the Westchester County level? Are people adequately protected and those accusers who are coming forward, do they feel protected against retaliation and everything else?”

The investigation revealed those half dozen complaints were made by employees in various departments: including the Youth Bureau, Social Services, and the Department of Public Works.

One case involved a corrections officer, who alleges he was continuously sexually harassed, both physically and verbally by a sergeant who is now a captain. In one alleged phone conversation between the captain and officer that officer claims he was using the bathroom when he received a call from his superior who asked him if he playing with his genitals, before saying he was just doing a “home check” and hanging up the phone.

“Were you playing with your [expletive]? Were you stroking your [expletive?]" the captain allegedly said. "I am just doing a home check, you are good."

In another complaint, a Department of Public Works employee in Mount Vernon alleges she had been subject to "stalking behaviors by a fellow county employee.” She recalls the time of alleged stalking stating in a complaint.

"I sensed a car coming up fast on me towards my right. I turned to see him drive up on me, on the wrong side of the street, against traffic, to get on my side," the Department of Public Works employee said. "I was scared to death as I didn't know what his intentions were."

Two of the internal cases were filed by male county employees.

The human rights commission plans to increase the number of seats on its board. Meantime, it said the office of equal employment opportunity, affirmative actions will continue to investigate claims of sexual harassment and says its top priority is to ensure a safe and comfortable work environment. It also encourages employees to come forward with concerns.

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