Staffer accuses Grodenchik of sexual harassment

Councilmember Barry Grodenchik faces formal discipline from the City Council after an aide accused him of sexual harassment. Photo by John McCarten via City Council/Flickr

Councilmember Barry Grodenchik faces formal discipline from the City Council after an aide accused him of sexual harassment. Photo by John McCarten via City Council/Flickr

By David Brand

An aide to Queens Councilmember Barry Grodenchik has accused her boss of sexual harassment, alleging that Grodenchik paid “unwelcome attention” to her by discussing her weight and greeting her with hugs and kisses — intimate gestures he did not give to other staffmembers.

Grodenchik, chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee, faces formal disciplinary charges from the council after the Committee on Standards and Ethics deemed the aide’s accusations credible Thursday. He represents parts of Eastern Queens, including Bayside, Little Neck and Queens Village.

Staten Island Councilmember Steven Matteo, chair of the Committee on Standards and Ethics, described the allegations against Grodenchik, including the accusation of “unwelcome attention” and affection, during the committee hearing.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced he was removing Grodenchik from the council’s budget negotiating team in light of the Standards and Ethics Committee’s decision.

“No one should ever be made to feel uncomfortable in the workplace and singled out for unwanted attention,” Johnson said in a statement. “I am immediately removing him from the Budget Negotiating Team, pending the results of the disciplinary hearing.”

Grodenchik acknowledged that he hugged the aide after a recent meeting, but did not mention other instances of awkward or exploitative affection.  

"Earlier this year, at the end of a meeting where we were finalizing important legislation, I am told that I briefly shook hands and hugged several people involved in the process and thanked them for their hard work and diligence,” Grodenchik said. “It is never my intention to make any person feel uncomfortable, and I sincerely apologize if my actions had that effect.”

“For me, as is true for many of my colleagues, a hug is a common greeting for people I have known for a long time, but as others do not feel that way, I will certainly be more sensitive to that in the future,” he continued.

Grodenchik said Johnson’s decision to remove him from the budget team was “over-reaction” and “excessive punishment.”

“Harassment is a real issue that we need to address, but we have to have some common sense and reasonableness about what is intended by someone's actions,” he said. “While we need to change some traditional behavior, we must do so without punishing people for being human and without ruining lives and careers.”