NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Bill de Blasio was on the defensive on Wednesday after making a stunning accusation about the large number of sexual harassment complaints made to the city’s Department of Education.
Dozens gathered at City Hall for what was supposed to be a welcomed announcement — another $125 million in the budget for city schools.
And then de Blasio stepped in it, implying that when it comes to filing sexual harassment complaints teachers sometimes lie or file charges that aren’t factually accurate.
“There’s a distinct reality at the Department of Education, and I’ll say it gently, there has been a history and it’s pretty well known… of some people bringing complaints of one type or another that may not have to do with the specific issue,” de Blasio said.
The mayor called it a “hyper-complaint dynamic” which “has inflated their numbers.”
The comments were in response to questions about why the DOE accounts for about one-third of all the sexual harassment complaints filed during his first term.
Of the 1,321 complaints, 471 came from DOE employees.
“It’s a pretty well known thing in the education world that some people, inappropriately, make complaints for other reasons,” de Blasio was said.
The teachers’ union was furious.
“Our teachers have a tough enough job that they don’t have time to make frivolous claims,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.
The issue seemed to exacerbate recent tensions with the union. On Tuesday, Mulgrew stood on the steps of City Hall to demand that de Blasio negotiate a paid parental leave policy for teachers.
Meanwhile, new Chancellor Richard Carranza was asked why only a handful of the initial sexual harassment complaints at their agency were substantiated.
“With all due respect that’s a ‘B.R’ question, which means ‘Before Richard’,” Carranza said. “I wasn’t here.”
The new chancellor says that since his arrival, the department will take every allegation of harassment “extremely seriously.”
De Blasio took to Twitter Wednesday afternoon to clarify his stance.
“Let me be clear, every single person who has the courage to come forward with a sexual harassment complaint deserves to be believed,” the mayor tweeted.
A spokesperson for the mayor tells CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer that “more work” needs to be done in dealing with sexual harassment cases at the DOE. She said 11 additional people have been hired to investigate workplace complaints at the agency.