The former director of interns for Tommy John Schiavoni’s State Senate campaign claimed in a Facebook post this week that she was the victim of sexual harassment by Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee members — and was fired from her paid position because she reported the harassment.
Further, Emily Dwyer called on Mr. Schiavoni, a Democrat and current member of the Southampton Town Board, to resign from the campaign in light of the allegations and his perceived mishandling of her situation.
“If he can’t be trusted to handle” reports of sexual harassment correctly, she said on Tuesday, “I don’t think he’ll make an effective state senator.”
Mr. Schiavoni, who maintains that he was initially unaware of the sexual harassment allegations, said this week that Ms. Dwyer was fired, along with a roster of college interns from Stony Brook University, out of concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak. He said that attorneys for his campaign are investigating Ms. Dwyer’s allegations.
“I do not tolerate any kind of harassment,” Mr. Schiavoni said on Tuesday, “as a public official, a father and a husband.”
In her Facebook post, Ms. Dwyer, a Centereach resident and also a student at Stony Brook University, claims that the two Democratic Committee members, Dom Pascual and William Ferraro, spread rumors about her, implicating that she was using sex to advance her political career. The allegations were brought to her attention, she said, by Mr. Schiavoni’s former campaign manager, Jacob Grier, in mid-February.
Mr. Grier, she said, “incessantly” questioned her about the allegations on a daily basis since then without taking any actions. She said she asked him not to bring the situation up at work, a request that was denied. “I just continued to do my job,” she said.
Mr. Schiavoni, a Sag Harbor resident, noted this week that Mr. Grier resigned from his campaign last Wednesday but could not say why he resigned, only that it had nothing to do with Ms. Dwyer’s allegations.
Ms. Dwyer, however, said that Mr. Grier had told he that he would resign because of his mishandling of the allegations, and she believes that’s why he left the campaign.
She said she made several attempts to secure “screenshots” of digital conversations that demonstrated the harassment, but was thwarted by campaign and party officials. She also said she penned an email to Mr. Schiavoni detailing the allegations, but he repeatedly said he had not read it.
“I am aware that I will always have to deal with badly behaving men for the duration of my political career,” she said in her Facebook post. “I simply wanted to provide proof to the BTDC that I am not making this up and to create protocols and standards of behavior for those in leadership going forward.”
Shortly after, on Monday, Ms. Dwyer said, she was called into a meeting in which she was told she was being fired. She said she believes the firing was a direct result of her making the harassment allegations.
“When I asked him about the timing of his laying me and my team of interns off,” she said in the statement, “he claimed it had nothing to do with my whistleblowing of the sexism of the campaign, and that he had never even seen my email, even though that was completely a lie.”
Mr. Schiavoni said on Tuesday that laying off Ms. Dwyer and the interns had nothing to do with the allegations. The interns had been engaged in going door to door to gather signatures for his nominating petitions, a task that had been completed. Also, given the coronavirus outbreak, his campaign felt uncomfortable having the student interns going door to door and possibly putting themselves at risk.
“I had my required signatures,” he said. “They did their job. I didn’t think it was prudent to have them going door to door.”
Ms. Dwyer, however, said she believes the layoffs were a direct response to the harassment allegations. Further, she said that she believes a two-week severance check she received, for $1,760, was offered in an attempt to silence her. “He was trying to buy me out and make me go away forever,” she said on Tuesday.
Mr. Schiavoni earlier this year in the press and on social media hailed his internship program. “As a lifelong teacher,” he said in one Facebook post, “I found it’s better to show students how a process works rather than tell them about it in a classroom.”
He also noted that in addition to the paid interns and Ms. Dwyer, four other staffers were laid off at the same time. He said he became aware of the sexual harassment claims only at the time Ms. Dwyer was laid off.
“I was taken aback,” he said, noting that when he eventually read the original email that Ms. Dwyer sent, there was no mention of sexual harassment — claims he said were not related to his campaign.
“That was personal information from outside the campaign,” he said. “ I didn’t even know the people involved.”
Ms. Dwyer maintains, however, that the email included the allegations.
Mr. Schiavoni said he immediately had the campaign’s attorneys launch an official investigation into the claims. “It’s something I take very seriously,” he said. “I immediately launched an investigation.”
In his own Facebook statement posted on Tuesday, Mr. Schiavoni praised the interns and promised to take Ms. Dwyer’s allegations seriously.
“I learned yesterday about allegations made against one staffer by another who worked on my campaign to develop an incredible internship program, a program which ended Monday because I could not justify sending students to knock on doors with the coronavirus so uncertain when the requisite number of signatures needed to be on the ballot was already obtained,” the statement reads. “I have the utmost respect for all these hard-working interns, who are being paid in addition to earning credit for the grass-roots lessons they’re learning. Immediately upon hearing the complaint I began investigation and this investigation is ongoing. I have never nor would ever condone the behavior alleged.”
Ms. Dwyer, in her Facebook post, called on the public to speak out against the kind of behavior she said she was a victim of.
“So I ask you, the day after International Women’s Day,” it read, “to denounce this kind of behavior. Women face this every day and we are expected to remain silent. I won’t be.”
She then called on Mr. Schiavoni to end his campaign. “Someone like you, who puts politics and money before women and young people, should never hold office again,” the post reads. “Tommy John, I am calling for you to drop out of the race.”
She said on Tuesday that she and the 45 interns were disheartened with their former boss and would work to see him defeated in an upcoming primary if he did not step down.
“I do have 45 people who are not going to let him win this,” she said.
Mr. Schiavoni was elected to his first four-year term on the Southampton Town Board in 2017 after working as a teacher in the Center Moriches School District for 30 years. He announced his intent to run for the senate seat in November.
He is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 1st District seat currently held by State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, a Republican who announced earlier this year that he would not seek reelection in November.
Three other Democrats are seeking the nomination in addition to Mr. Schiavoni: Skyler Johnson, a 19-year-old Mount Sinai resident; Brookhaven Town Board member Valerie Cartwright; and Laura Ahearn, the executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center. A primary to decide the nomination will be held on June 23, according to party officials.
Republican State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo of New Suffolk on the North Fork, announced his candidacy in early February and is the presumptive GOP candidate for the seat. He is not expected to face a primary. Mr. Palumbo was first elected to the 2nd District Assembly seat in 2013 and is currently serving his second term.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Ms. Ahearn showed support for Ms. Dwyer.
“As someone who has spent my entire career advocating for women like Emily Dwyer, Emily’s account of sexual harassment at the hands of a superior, of a supposed role model and public servant abusing his position of power, is equal parts gut-wrenching, disgusting, and credible,” the statement read. “Although a public apology and the resignation of the men responsible for Emily’s abhorrent treatment is too little much too late, they are the only appropriate first steps under the circumstances. Emily, I am sorry you had to endure this and I commend you for your courage.”