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The statue of Lady Justice sits atop City Hall, Oct. 5, 2021.
The statue of Lady Justice sits atop City Hall, Oct. 5, 2021.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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Sexual Harassment History No Obstacle to Getting a New Government Job for Some City Workers

Records obtained by THE CITY show employees remain on the payroll after they have been found responsible for misconduct on duty, including when termination was recommended.

The allegations against then-Parks Department worker Charles Meierdiercks were troubling.

In an enclosed shed of a Brooklyn park he told a female subordinate that he was feeling turned on, began to pleasure himself over a sink and asked if she wanted to join in, according to the woman.

Within months, Parks investigators substantiated allegations of sexual harassment against Meierdiercks, city documents show.

The subordinate, who told THE CITY she felt awkward at work after the alleged March 2015 incident because her colleagues seemed aware of it, quit her relatively new post that June — even as she was living in a homeless shelter with her son.

Two months later, before officials could terminate Meierdiercks, he resigned, records provided by the Department of Parks and Recreation indicate.

But online payroll records show that Meierdiercks was hired in July of the following year by the city Department of Sanitation, where he’s been earning a taxpayer-paid salary ever since.

“Him working at Sanitation — what’s the difference? It’s still a city job,” the accuser told THE CITY.

“I honestly find that to be ridiculous and crazy because a predator is a predator,” she added. “If he did it to me, he could have done it to anyone else.”

Department of Parks and Recreation officials say they have no record of any communications with the Department of Sanitation at the time Sanitation hired Meierdiercks.

Sanitation officials said Meierdiercks was hired off a civil service list and that a background check turned up no red flags, but noted he also failed to self-report any past disciplinary issues as required.

He earned $74,300 in total pay as a sanitation worker in the year ending June 2020, including overtime, the most recent city payroll records show.

Meierdiercks couldn’t be reached by phone, and didn’t respond to a request for comment passed along through his union.

A Troubling Pattern

THE CITY learned of the allegations against Meierdiercks and other city employees accused of sexual misconduct via a dozen Freedom of Information Act requests filed with New York City government agencies in May 2019, seeking records dating back to 2014, the start of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s two terms.

The records show at least a half dozen employees were terminated from one agency, only to be hired by another — or simply stayed put even after their agency tried to oust them.

One former Human Resources Administration employee even ran for elected office on Staten Island earlier this year with the assistance of $124,000 in taxpayer funds, just months after retiring amid a disciplinary charge for sexual harassment.

Other city workers received significant raises or promotions in the middle of or soon after probes by agency equal employment opportunity investigators that found the workers had committed sexual harassment.

In a case that yielded a demotion for a lieutenant of emergency medical technicians — for groping and sexually harassing a reality TV star turned EMT — the disciplined employee was able to reverse his pay cut within a year simply by racking up overtime, records show.

Still other cases demonstrate tactics that employment lawyers and advocates for improved workplace culture condemn — including granting confirmed harassers an assurance of a neutral job reference in exchange for their resignation.

“I’ve seen this over and over again in institutional settings: When somebody gets caught, the institution wants to make it disappear while creating the appearance of taking responsible steps to deal with it,” said Wendy Murphy, an attorney and adjunct professor of sexual violence at New England Law in Boston.

“Leadership has to take the bull by the horns on this sort of issue and look at this data and say, ‘I haven’t done a good job with my messaging.’ And make it very clear that this not only is unacceptable, but that we have a zero tolerance policy — not a some-tolerance policy.”

Years to Get Records

The disciplinary records obtained by THE CITY for the first time shed light on how sexual misconduct allegations get investigated and acted upon across city agencies.

THE CITY sought records from the Mayor’s Office and City Council; Administration for Children’s Services; Department of Citywide Administrative Services and Human Resources Administration; the departments of Correction, Education, Health, Parks, Design and Construction, and Environmental Protection; and the NYPD and FDNY.

It took two and a half years before all the agencies complied with the requests. Multiple agencies, including NYPD, DOC and City Council, failed to provide names of personnel with substantiated cases or information on disciplinary outcomes.

The public release of the documents comes as New York still reels from the resignation in August of Gov. Andrew Cuomo following an independent investigation commissioned by state Attorney General Letitia James of workplace harassment allegations against him.

The documents obtained by THE CITY highlight how sexual misconduct can occur anywhere — including among officials in mayoral offices and in the office of the NYPD’s highest ranking uniformed police official, then-Chief of Department James O’Neill, who went on to serve as commissioner. (O’Neill was not implicated in the case.)

The data and documents were sought at a time when the #MeToo movement and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, despite sexual harassment and assault allegations, brought widespread attention to the issue.

In 2018, the City Council passed a package of laws that de Blasio signed and said would boost transparency and accountability when it comes to harassment in city government.

But the 2018 legislation didn’t mandate release of information about outcomes of disciplinary actions against city employees, and that information had remained almost entirely out of public view, until now.

‘Numerous Reforms’

The records show multiple instances of agency-hopping in the face of termination — including a worker at the Department of Design and Construction who was booted for a “pattern of inappropriate commentary and behavior” in late 2017, and within months was hired by the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Neither agency commented on that case.

Another Department of Parks and Recreation staffer who was employed seasonally by the agency was put on the agency’s “do not hire list” in 2016 for confirmed sexual harassment, according to department documents.

After not working the following two summers, the recreation specialist resumed his seasonal employment with the Parks Department in 2018 and 2019, online payroll records show.

Parks officials said the list is actually a “verify to hire” list, meaning hiring managers have the discretion to employ someone on the list.

They said it contains more than 11,000 names, mostly of seasonal workers with time and leave issues, but also 42 staffers with cases of alleged sexual harassment.

Asked about the rehiring of terminated workers, City Hall officials said they introduced new guidelines only last year, in January, that for the first time required agencies to check on anti-harassment or discrimination law violations by potential hires who were transferring between city agencies.

They explained the change was spurred by a review of the city’s practices by an outside law firm two years ago. It followed a report in The New York Times that de Blasio’s chief of staff had quietly resigned a year earlier after investigators recommended his termination for sexual harassment based on complaints by two women.

“All city employees deserve to feel safe at work and be free from harassment. That is why we have implemented numerous reforms since 2019 to standardize the complaint reporting process and make outcomes more transparent, including centralized data collection of complaints and outcomes,” said Danielle Filson, a City Hall spokesperson.

“As part of these efforts, most recently we have required staff at agencies to check work history as it relates to substantiated sexual harassment complaints in city service,” she added.

Also last year, city officials wrote into the guidelines that EEO violations should be disclosed to outside prospective employers if they were substantiated within the prior year. Newly updated guidelines show officials are extending the disclosure timeline to cases confirmed during the two previous years.

‘Do Not Rehire’

The records obtained by THE CITY show that confirmed cases of sexual harassment can go essentially unpunished, either through relatively light discipline or when a municipal worker simply resigns.

Former HRA staff analyst Brandon Stradford has run for elected office twice since the agency substantiated a sexual harassment allegation against him in May 2019 — and in one race got considerable assistance from matching taxpayer dollars.

Brandon Stradford ran for Staten Island borough president.
Brandon Stradford ran for Staten Island borough president.
Brandon Stradford of NY/Facebook

Stradford competed in the Democratic primary against State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn) in June 2020, six months after his last day of work at HRA.

He followed that losing race with a bid to become Staten Island borough president this year.

And while he finished with just 10% of the vote in the Democratic primary in June, his bid was buoyed by $123,904 in matching funds he received from the city’s 8-to-1 matching campaign finance system.

The confirmed allegation of sexual harassment against him at HRA hasn’t been previously reported, and didn’t come up during either bid for elected office.

While the nature of that harassment couldn’t be gleaned from documents provided by HRA, officials said he was facing a relatively light punishment of a one-day suspension.

Court records show Stradford was also accused in state Supreme Court of apparently more serious sexual harassment by a female staffer when both of them worked for the Administration for Children’s Services several years prior, but that lawsuit was dismissed.

Stradford didn’t respond to a voicemail and text message seeking comment.

‘Jersey Shore’ Star Harassed

In one case that garnered considerable media attention, FDNY Emergency Medical Technician Jonathan Schechter was named in a sexual harassment lawsuit by former “Jersey Shore” reality star Angelina Pivarnick in 2019 that the city settled for $350,000 last year.

The federal filing included a claim by Pivarnick that Schechter, one of her EMT supervisors, grabbed and squeezed her buttocks in a parking lot outside the Staten Island EMS station, “putting his hand so low that he also made contact with her vaginal area.”

Angelina Pivarnick attends WEtv’s premiere fashion event celebrating the return of ‘Bridezillas’ on March 13, 2019 at Angel Orensanz Foundation in New York City.
Angelina Pivarnick attends WEtv’s premiere fashion event celebrating the return of ‘Bridezillas’ on March 13, 2019 at Angel Orensanz Foundation in New York City.
Ron Adar/Shutterstock

The complaint says that later that same day, in May 2018, Schechter texted her: “That a—! If you only knew the thoughts in my mind.”

Schechter’s punishment, which hasn’t been previously reported, was a demotion from lieutenant to paramedic — after the FDNY substantiated that he had subjected the complainant to a “sexually hostile work environment.”

But records show his ability to earn overtime went unimpeded, to the point that after his demotion dropped his take home pay by $13,000, Schechter boosted it the following year by $30,000 — earning close to $120,000.

Retaliation Charged

In another case, from 2018, two supervisors at the Administration for Children’s Services gave a negative review to and tried to terminate a female employee who had filed a complaint of sexual harassment against one of them, agency documents show.

The alleged harasser, Division of Policy, Planning and Measurement Chief of Staff Luc Severe, resigned in July 2018 — just weeks before agency EEO investigators substantiated the claims of sexual harassment and retaliation against him.

Details were redacted from the documents provided, other than that it occurred at an “after-work social event.”

As for the retaliation allegation, agency investigators confirmed that Severe ignored the complainant or “spoke to her rudely at meetings,” excluded her from work-related projects and colluded to provide her with “both an unfair and untimely performance evaluation and a referral for termination.”

A line hand-scribbled on one of the investigative documents says a “do not rehire” note should be put into Severe’s personnel file.

After a year out of government work, Severe landed at the state government’s Empire State Development Corp., as vice president of business development with a salary of $100,000.

He’s now a vice president for a major nonprofit. Attempts to reach him by phone and online were unsuccessful.

ACS officials said they have no record that ESD reached out to inquire about Severe’s disciplinary history. But ESD officials said they communicated with a high-level executive at ACS, who relayed no red flags.

The female ACS supervisor was allowed to remain at the agency, despite an investigative finding that she had helped try to retaliate against the complainant. Within 18 months of the probe’s conclusion, the supervisor was awarded a $24,000 raise — putting her salary at $105,000.

ACS officials said that supervisor’s discipline was still pending as of late October — nearly three years after the case was closed — because of an ongoing review by agency counsel.

Raises and Promotions

The questionable timing of raises and promotions surfaced in a number of records obtained by THE CITY.

One Department of Environmental Protection mechanical engineer was promoted and got a 9% raise, or about $7,000, in the middle of a 2018 investigation into his conduct.

Months later, the agency confirmed that he had engaged in a “series of unwanted romantic advances” toward a colleague and attempted to kiss her.

He was docked five vacation days. He remains employed by DEP.

Then there’s the case of a senior manager in the mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency — who in the first year of de Blasio’s mayoralty was accused of inappropriate conduct toward female interns and other staffers.

A two-page memo dated Nov. 14, 2014, shows that seven witnesses provided consistent testimony that the manager had hired young, attractive women of a similar type to work as interns.

The memo says he often spoke close to their faces or with an arm draped around their chair, and that he had asked one out to lunch and another out for drinks. He had also asked out a staff level employee four or five times — even after she had declined — using the selling point that he was in an “open relationship.”

His discipline at the time was the memo in his personnel file.

Six weeks after the concerns about the manager’s behavior were documented, his salary was bumped from $70,000 to nearly $89,000 per year, online payroll records show.

But his conduct didn’t improve, according to a July 2017 investigation that substantiated five allegations of similar behavior over the ensuing years.

A City Hall spokesperson said the worker was terminated that month.

In response to a question about the timing of raises for workers accused of EEO misconduct, City Hall officials said they’re currently drafting a policy that governs the issue.

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