A former state economic development official who is the subject of two investigations over alleged sexual harassment of a state employee has been sued in federal court in Manhattan.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Empire State Development Corp. and the state also are named as defendants in the federal civil rights lawsuit, filed by a former Department of Motor Vehicles employee against Sam Hoyt, 55, who resigned suddenly in October from his position as the regional president of the state’s economic development agency in Buffalo.
Hoyt is under at least two separate investigations by the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Inspector General’s office, Gov. Cuomo’s office said last month.
The complaint filed by Lisa Marie Cater of Buffalo in U.S. District Court for the Southern District on Saturday alleges that Hoyt violated her state and federal civil rights by engaging in a “pattern and practice of committing sexual harassment, assault and discrimination and retaliation” against her. She also accuses the Economic Development Corp. and the governor of turning a blind eye to her complaints, charging that they “willfully ignored” them. Cater is seeking monetary damages and fees.
In a statement, Alphonso David, counsel to the governor, said that following the complaint, Hoyt was instructed to have no interaction with the complainant and to cooperate with the investigation. Hoyt “did not supervise or work in the same agency as Ms. Cater,” Alphonso added.
Cater’s complaint was filed in mid-October 2016 and an investigation was underway by November, officials said.
The State Employees Relation Office, which had initially investigated the complaint, then referred it to the Inspector General’s office. During the Inspector General’s investigation the “complainant did not comply with repeated attempts to interview her or provide any documentation, and the matter was referred to [the Joint Commission on Public Ethics] for investigation,” David said.
“With the investigation still pending, Mr. Hoyt separated from state service. 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,” David said in an email.
“The state launched 3 separate investigations into this matter, and any assertion to the contrary is patently and demonstrably false, and as such, we expect this matter to be summarily dismissed,” he added. “All state employees deserve to be treated with respect. We address every allegation of sexual harassment seriously and will continue to take all steps to detect and root out this unacceptable behavior.”
In a statement to the Buffalo News last month, Hoyt claimed the relationship with the then-unnamed employee was “consensual and inappropriate.”
In the federal complaint, Cater, 51, states that she sought a job with the state from Hoyt in October 2015. But after he helped get her a job with the Department of Motor Vehicles, she alleges that the married Hoyt pressured her for sex, unlawfully and “egregiously sexually assaulting and harassing the plaintiff any chance he had.” She alleges that when she rebuffed his advances he “became increasingly aggressive.”
Cater further charges that when she turned to state officials for help, they “ignored and/or were completely indifferent” toward her.
Cater acknowledged in the complaint that she entered into a confidential settlement agreement of $50,000 in late 2016 with Hoyt in return for his offer to pay for mental health treatment she needed “on account of the unlawful behavior.” In exchange, Cater was to release Hoyt from “any and all liability” regarding his behavior.
But “alone, depressed and without any recourse,” Cater decided to speak out anyway and as a result, she contends, Hoyt resigned from his post. Cater contends in the complaint that she was “not mentally fit” to sign such an agreement but that “Hoyt forced her to” for fear of permanently losing her job and possibly being blackballed.
Terrence Connors of Connors LLP in Buffalo confirmed to the New York Law Journal in October that he represented Hoyt in the negotiation of a voluntary settlement agreement that contained a confidentiality clause. He did not say at the time whether he would pursue legal action as a result of the accuser’s breach of the clause.
Connors told the Post Hoyt denies the allegations.
In 2008, Hoyt was sanctioned by then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver over a relationship the former assemblyman had with a 23-year-old intern that resulted in Hoyt’s being banned from participation in the Assembly’s internship and student mentoring programs.
Cater is represented by attorney Paul Liggieri of the Derek Smith Law Group, PLLC of Manhattan.
MP McQueen contributed to this story.