Former Gillibrand Staffer Quit Over Office's Handling of Sexual Harassment Allegation: 'I Was Belittled'

March 11, 2019

A young staffer for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) resigned last summer over what she called a poor handling of a sexual harassment complaint she lodged against one of her senior aides.

"When I had the courage to speak up about my harasser, I was belittled by her office and treated like an inconvenience," the woman said of Gillibrand. "She kept a harasser on her staff until it proved politically untenable for her to do so."

The mid-20s woman said last July that longtime Gillibrand aide Abbas Malik made repeated, unwelcome advances toward her after Gillibrand put him in a supervisory role over her, Politico reported. Malik was a decade older than her and married. But less than three weeks after reporting the harassment, she told Gillibrand's chief of staff she was quitting over how the matter was investigated, despite not having another job lined up:

"I have offered my resignation because of how poorly the investigation and post-investigation was handled," the woman wrote to Gillibrand in a letter sent on her final day to the senator's personal email account.

Copied were general counsel Keith Castaldo and Fassler, who is now managing the senator’s presidential bid.

"I trusted and leaned on this statement that you made: ‘You need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is O.K. None of it is acceptable.’ Your office chose to go against your public belief that women shouldn’t accept sexual harassment in any form and portrayed my experience as a misinterpretation instead of what it actually was: harassment and ultimately, intimidation," the woman wrote.

The senator and her staff never responded to the letter.

Malik, Gillibrand's former driver who officiated her wedding, kept his job at the time but was fired last week after a new investigation following Politico presenting the office with its findings.

Gillibrand's office countered that it didn't respond to the woman's letter because "engaging again on an already settled personnel matter was not the appropriate course of action." It also said the letter came after she’d given her notice, "contained clear inaccuracies and was a major departure from the sentiments she shared with senior staff in her final days in the office."

The office said that after an internal investigation, Malik's actions didn't rise to the level of sexual harassment, although he was punished by not getting an expected promotion and given a final warning. Malik was previously disciplined for threatening a male co-worker in 2015.

The woman never alleged any unwanted physical contact but rather intimidating and demeaning language and behavior. The office only interviewed current employees, however, and never reached out to former workers as the woman requested.

Politico did contact former staffers about the workplace environment under Gillibrand and others reported Malik frequently acted boorishly and made sexist comments. One ex-aide recounted he said of a woman that "[she] couldn’t get laid unless she was raped."

The woman detailed frequent pick-up attempts that left her uncomfortable, including, according to her, four in a single day last July.

Gillibrand has styled herself as one of the leading lawmaker's voices during the #MeToo era, calling for reforms to combat sexual assault in the military and workplace.

She bucked her own party by calling for popular progressive Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) to step down over sexual misconduct allegations in 2017, which left bitter feelings about her with some top donors. She also said Bill Clinton should have resigned over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

She told Politico in a statement, "As I have long said, when allegations are made in the workplace, we must believe women so that serious investigations can actually take place, we can learn the facts, and there can be appropriate accountability. That’s exactly what happened at every step of this case last year. I told her that we loved her at the time and the same is true today."

Her 2020 presidential campaign—still technically in the exploratory phase—is centered around empowering women in the age of President Donald Trump. Gillibrand has called on him to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct as well.

"There's nothing like electing someone who's seen by so many to be misogynist—someone who doesn't value women—to get [women] to understand that their voices really do matter," she told GQ last year.