Ms. Kaplan, a prominent progressive lawyer, was involved in an effort to discredit a woman who had accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, a report said.Roberta A. Kaplan resigned from her post at Time’s Up as the fallout from sexual harassment allegations against Mr. Cuomo widened. Credit... Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Fortune
Published Aug. 9, 2021 Updated Aug. 26, 2021
[New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will resign after sexual harassment investigation.]
The fallout from a damaging report that found Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women widened on Monday when Roberta A. Kaplan, a nationally prominent lawyer with ties to the governor, resigned from Time’s Up, the organization founded by Hollywood women to fight sexual abuse and promote gender equality.
Ms. Kaplan, the chairwoman of Time’s Up and the co-founder of its legal defense fund, was one of several prominent figures whom the report found to be involved in an effort to discredit one of Mr. Cuomo’s alleged victims, and she has continuing legal ties to a former Cuomo aide accused of leading that effort.
“Unfortunately, recent events have made it clear that even our apparent allies in the fight to advance women can turn out to be abusers,” Ms. Kaplan wrote in a letter submitting her resignation from the group. “We have felt the raw, personal and profound pain of that betrayal.”
She said that her work as a practicing lawyer meant that she could not openly answer questions about her involvement with Mr. Cuomo or Melissa DeRosa, the aide to the governor whom Ms. Kaplan represented in the attorney general inquiry.
Ms. DeRosa, who investigators said had led the effort against Ms. Boylan, announced her resignation from the Cuomo administration on Sunday. She believed the governor no longer had a path to remain in office and she did not want to continue to publicly support him, according to two people familiar with her thinking.
The report from the state attorney general’s office found that Ms. Kaplan had reviewed a draft of a disparaging op-ed letter that was aimed at attacking the character of Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo aide who was the first to publicly accuse him of sexual harassment.
The op-ed letter was never published. It was part of a broader effort in which Mr. Cuomo and his aides sought counsel from former administration officials including Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest L.G.B.T.Q. political lobbying organization in the country; Tina Tchen, the chief executive of Time’s Up; and the governor’s brother, Chris Cuomo, an anchor on CNN.
All of those figures have come under criticism for their connections to Mr. Cuomo.
The involvement of Mr. David, who previously served as counsel to the governor, has led to calls for his resignation from the Human Rights Campaign. The organization said in a statement on Monday that it had hired a law firm to investigate whether Mr. David’s work on the op-ed aligned with its mission of “fighting for equality and justice for all.”
Mr. David, who has called on Mr. Cuomo to resign, said in a statement that he had no knowledge of “any incidents of misconduct” involving the 11 women in the attorney general’s report.
He said that he did not sign the op-ed letter about Ms. Boylan, an assertion confirmed by the report. But the investigators also said that Mr. David agreed to help get other former staffers to sign the letter, an allegation that he denied in his statement.
He said that while he provided the administration with a counseling memo about Ms. Boylan because he “was legally obligated” to do so, he was not involved in leaking her personnel files to reporters in an effort to undermine her.
Ms. Kaplan has come under similar scrutiny given the mission of her organization. A prominent attorney who helped win the legalization of gay marriage, she represented the promise of Time’s Up, founded in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations by leading Hollywood figures such as the actress Reese Witherspoon and the star producer Shonda Rhimes. The concept was that high-profile women would be able to use their connections and influence to toughen protections and advance gender equality.
The path to resignation. After drawing national praise for his leadership in the early days of the pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was confronted with several scandals that eventually led to his resignation on Aug. 10, 2021. Here is what to know about his political demise:
Sexual harassment accusations. Multiple women accused Mr. Cuomo of harassment, including groping and lewd remarks. An independent inquiry by the New York State attorney general corroborated the accounts. The investigation also found that he retaliated against at least one woman who made her complaints public.
But the allegations against Mr. Cuomo — an ally of the organization who worked with them to strengthen laws in New York — has called that bargain into question.
On Monday morning, a group of survivors of sexual harassment and assault posted an open letter to board of Time’s Up, saying that the organization had betrayed its ideals. “Time’s Up has abandoned the very people it was supposed to champion,” the letter, which was published on Medium, said. “The board continues to fail to heed the outcry from survivors. Time’s Up is failing all survivors.”
In a statement, Ms. Tchen and the Time’s Up board said they agreed with Ms. Kaplan that her resignation was “the right and appropriate thing to do.”
They also vowed that the organization would make itself more accountable and transparent to the community it sought to represent, though the statement did not provide details.
“We are counting on our sisters and allies not to lose sight of the broader work and let a man’s treachery be overshadowed in any way,” the statement said. “We do not ask for a pass. We ask for perspective.”
Ms. Kaplan was in a particularly awkward position after the report was released last Tuesday. Ms. DeRosa is represented by Ms. Kaplan’s firm, and Ms. DeRosa testified in the attorney general’s inquiry that Ms. Kaplan was her lawyer. Asked by The New York Times if she had ever counseled Ms. DeRosa beyond the op-ed letter, Ms. Kaplan declined to answer.
“Today is a very sad day,” Ms. Kaplan said in an email to The Times. “I will so miss time spent with this board and our sisterhood. Going forward, I hope they will be able to stick together and continue this important work.”