Nine women who are either current or former members of the Tarrytown Volunteer Ambulance Corps (TVAC) have accused a male colleague of sexual harassment.
Their accusations were made in person or in writing at a meeting of the TVAC Board of Directors on Jan. 25, including testimony which detailed incidents of sexual harassment going back five years. The TVAC Board of Directors failed to either revoke the membership of the man, a 65-year-old Tarrytown resident who is a 17-year of veteran of the corps, or reinstate him after a six-month suspension for a related issue. His status remains in limbo as he is still a member but not on active duty.
Last year, the man, who is not being named in this article because he has not been charged with a crime, was suspended by TVAC. In addition, he was reprimanded for violating the patient privacy law, known as HIPPA, by taking photographs of a female patient, according to Jeffery Hammond, a Department of Health spokesperson.
In her written statement to the ambulance corps' board of directors, Monika Michon, a TVAC volunteer while she was an international student living in Tarrytown last year, said the man sat next to her on a couch and started rubbing her feet without permission. “I felt uncomfortable and pulled away. Another time he walked behind me and proceeded to touch my shoulders. I moved his hands away saying I didn’t like it.”
Michon also said she witnessed a disturbing incident involving a patient. “(The man) left the patient’s right breast fully exposed and visible. (He) was flirting…and complimenting her while still keeping the breast exposed. I felt very uncomfortable…and I put a sheet over her breast.”
In written testimony another woman said the man asked her “if she was wearing a bra, what kind of underwear she was wearing and described his preference in women.”
Allegations and anecdotes about the man's behavior abound. Other allegations of physical encounters have not been included in this story as they could not be independently verified.
In response to the accusations, the man said he has filed a grievance with the TVAC board and “expects they will find these allegations without basis.”
TVAC Chairman of the Board Joan C. Dobson and other board members declined to be interviewed for this story.
According to Detective Sergeant Eugene Buonanno of the Tarrytown Police Department, some of the incidents were reported to the police, but the women with whom he spoke did not want to file a formal complaint for “various personal reasons.”
However, three former members and three current members, said they expect to file a complaint of sexual harassment/discrimination and retaliation against TVAC with the New York State Division of Human Rights today.
"Sexual harassment doesn’t often rise to the level of a criminal complaint,” said Karen Zdanis, an attorney specializing in employment law and sexual harassment who represented some of the women during their testimony. “Someone putting their hands on your shoulders may not be a criminal offense, but it could still be considered sexual harassment.”
Starting in the 1970s, the federal courts began to recognize sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination. Unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when the conduct creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Other than participation in a small pension program administered by the Village of Tarrytown, TVAC is a completely independent organization. It operates with no money from taxes, owns its own building, vehicles and equipment, and depends on volunteers and donations.
As a result of the controversy, TVAC is losing members such as Sleepy Hollow resident Tom Johnson.
"I was getting more and more uncomfortable with the board’s procrastination on the issue,” said Johnson. “It wasn’t a prudent delay.”
The four women interviewed for this article said they were reluctant to be identified, in part, for fear of retaliation by TVAC Captain Mike Farley, a member of the corps' board and an outspoken supporter of the accused.
“Mr. Farley has created an unsafe, hostile environment for me and some female members of TVAC who came forward with sexual harassment complaints against [the man],” said Murat Turk, an EMT, TVAC officer, in a letter to the Board. Turk has taken a voluntary leave of absence.
"If anyone has come to you about this, it’s because they are disgruntled,” said Farley during a telephone interview. Farley said there was one “serious” incident involving the man and a female corps member that was “dealt with to the satisfaction of all parties involved,” but dismissed the other allegations as “silly.”
After ignoring orders not to be alone with female members, the man was suspended in July, 2011, by the then-Captain, who is no longer an active member of the corps due to illness. It was this suspension that compelled the March vote by the Board of Directors and the testimony of the nine women before the board since TVAC bylaws state that suspensions can last no more than six months before a final decision to revoke or reinstate membership.
"These women were scared. It was a very tense meeting,” said Zdanis. “I asked the board members and one person in particular, to refrain from yelling or making faces during the testimony.”
Zdanis said she was surprised that the board didn’t vote unanimously to revoke the man’s membership. “It appeared to me that at least some of the board members were taking it seriously."