A Queens assemblymember was sanctioned for violating the confidentiality of an investigation into an incident with a female employee, the Assembly Speaker announced Thursday.
State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) announced he was implementing sanctions against Assemblymember Michael Miller (D-Woodhaven, Ridgewood, Richmond Hill, Ozone Park and Glendale) recommended by the Assembly’s bipartisan Ethics and Guidance Committee.
The committee found that Miller breached the confidentiality of an investigation into a complaint filed against him by a female staff member about an incident that disturbed her so much that she felt compelled to work from home. Miller violated the investigation’s confidentiality by speaking to numerous people other than his attorneys about the investigation including community leaders and at least one state senator and that he did so in “a manner that had the effect of intimidating potential witnesses.”
The committee recommended that the assemblymember undergo a training about the policy and law on retaliation and that a climate survey be done of his office.
According to a document obtained by Queens County Politics that was sent to Speaker Heastie’s office by the Ethics and Guidance committee on August 4, the complaint against Miller was filed in December by a female employee who said that an incident took place between her and the assemblymember “which caused the employee to be sufficiently fearful that she sought to work from home.”
After reviewing the complaint on December 6, the committee launched an investigation into whether the incident violated the Assembly’s policy against gender discrimination or harrassment. Assemblymember Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria, Long Island City), the committee’s chair, called Miller herself to notify him of the investigation and reminded him that “he should comply with it, in particular its requirements that he preserve evidence, maintain the confidentiality of the investigation, and refrain from communicating with his staff members or others (other than his legal counsel, if any) about the investigation or the facts related to it.”
The following day, Simotas contacted an independent investigator to begin the investigation. She then sent Miller a letter notifying him that the investigation had officially begun and a Written Plan to Prevent Retaliation, Preserve Documents, and Ensure Non-Interference with Witnesses. The plan included the policy requirements for confidentiality and informed Miller that he should “not discuss the investigation with anyone he suspected might be the complainant, a witness or involved in any way, nor anyone with whom the investigators could reasonably expected to speak, nor any Assembly employees or interns, including his own staff and former staff, other than to ensure document retention.”
The document then outlines the investigation into the incident. The independent investigator submitted their first report, which included 11 exhibits, on January 30. They then submitted a supplemental report on March 16 which addressed the alleged retaliation.
The committee met on June 16 and found that “the evidence did reveal inappropriate behavior and unprofessional conduct” Miller did not violate any policies or laws around gender discrimination and harassment “because his actions were not directed towards [the subject of the mandatory report] based upon her gender, and the evidenced does not establish a pattern of [sex-based] misconduct.”
The committee then held off on discussing the secondary report about retaliation to give Miller a chance to appear in front of the committee as policy requires. An invitation to appear was sent to him on June 27 to appear on July 14. The invitation outlined the evidence in the investigation and said that he was not found to have commiteeed gender discrimination or harrassment in the origianl complaint.
Miller ultimately declined the invitation through his and instead submitted an affidavit to the committee.
On July 27 the committee met and reviewed the evidence in the investigation which included transcripts of interviews with Miller, summaries of interviews with witnesses, emails, text messages, the affidavit, and both reports filed by the independent investigator.
The committee concluded that the assemblymember had indeed spoken with multiple people about the investigation including members of his staff, a New York State Senator, community leaders and “a powerful District Leader.”
According to the investigators, some of the conversations took place “knowingly if not deliberately within earshot of members of this District Office staff, in one case speculating about who might be the complainant (and who the Member was certain was not), and in another announcing that his lawyer told him he could sue the complainant for libel and slander.”
The committee said that they found that there was a distinct difference in the tone of the staff interviews with the tone of emails sent before the investigation. They concluded that “the Member’s overheard conversations likely impacted the willingness of the witnesses to be forthcoming in her interviews,” with one staff member declining to be interviewed at all.
A spokesperson in Miller’s office said that at this time they have no comment on the sanctions. Heastie’s office did not respond to questions about whether or not the employee still works for Miller, and nor whether or not any action has been taken despite the incident not violating the gender discrimination and harassment policy. They also did not say whether or not there have been other complaints filed against the assemblymember in the past.
Miller, who represents District 38 in the Assembly, lost his seat in the June primary to attorney Jenifer Rajkumar.