Woman says she was sexually harassed by state employee

Posted: Updated:

By COLLEEN LONG
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - An upstate New York woman struggling to find a place to live and a job after ending an abusive relationship said a state employee helped her, only to use it as an excuse to sexually harass and assault her, and she says the governor's office knew yet did nothing to stop it, according to a lawsuit.

The governor's office denies the allegations.

Lisa Marie Cater, 51, says in court papers filed Saturday in federal court that she wrote to the Empire State Development Corp. in the fall of 2015 seeking help, and then-Regional President William "Sam" Hoyt wrote her back directly saying he could help her find a job. He secured a position for her at the department of motor vehicles in Buffalo, she says.

She says he began to sexually harass and assault her; he turned up at her home uninvited where he kissed and groped her, according to her complaint. He constantly sent her sexually harassing text messages and emails, including a nude photo of himself asking: "Do I look tan?"

An attorney for Hoyt has denied Cater's allegations.

"Sam has previously acknowledged and expressed regret for a short term, consensual relationship with Ms. Cater," said attorney Terrance Connors. "These new allegations are totally inconsistent with her original story and contradicted by her own email and text message correspondence. If she persists with this lawsuit, we will seek dismissal at the earliest stage."

Cater says in court papers that Hoyt reminded her that he could take her job away in a second if she complained or refused his advances. When she tried to tell him she couldn't handle the abuse anymore, he attacked her, grabbing and squeezing her crotch area, the court papers say.

"You know this is what I want!" he said, according to the complaint.

She says last fall, Hoyt offered her $50,000 in exchange for her silence, and she signed the agreement without a lawyer because she couldn't afford one.

Cater says she tried to complain to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office about the abuse, but officials ignored or were "deliberately indifferent" toward her, charges the governor's office said were untrue. And at one point, Hoyt said he called Cuomo's office, and officials said they wanted the allegations to "go away," the suit alleges.

Alphonso David, Cuomo's counsel, said when Cater first reported the complaint in October 2016 it was immediately referred to the state Employee Relations Office 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," he said.

The case was quickly referred to the Inspector General's office but Cater didn't comply with attempts to interview her, officials said. The matter was referred to a third agency, the State Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

"The facts alleged in this complaint regarding Mr. Hoyt were not provided to state investigators and in many cases contradict the public allegations made in the last several weeks. The state launched three separate investigations into this matter, and any assertion to the contrary is patently and demonstrably false," David said.

Hoyt resigned Oct. 30 amid the investigations, which remain open. It came out the next day in news reports that he'd been accused of sexual harassment and paid off his accuser.

The lawsuit says her civil rights were violated and seeks monetary damages and attorney's fees.

Hoyt was appointed to the job in 2011 by Cuomo, and previously served in the state Assembly.

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