A former ABC executive producer has accused Chris Cuomo of sexually harassing her at a 2005 work party after he grabbed her butt in front of her husband and coworkers — and he later called it a “hearty greeting.”
Shelley Ross, a veteran TV journalist, detailed the incident at an Upper West Side bar in a New York Times op-ed Friday.
She said Cuomo sent an email in the aftermath telling her he was “ashamed” — but quickly tried to show his actions were different from an actor accused of doing the same to a stranger on the street.
Ross said she was working as an executive producer of an ABC entertainment program at the time, but had been Cuomo’s boss on ABC’s “Primetime Live” just prior.
“I was at the party with my husband, who sat behind me on an ottoman sipping his Diet Coke as I spoke with work friends. When Mr Cuomo entered the Upper West Side bar, he walked toward me and greeted me with a strong bear hug while lowering one hand to firmly grab and squeeze the cheek of my buttock,” she said.
“’I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss,” he said to me with a kind of cocky arrogance. “No you can’t,” I said, pushing him off me at the chest while stepping back, revealing my husband, who had seen the entire episode at close range. We quickly left.”
Cuomo then sent Ross an email, dated June 1, 2005, with the subject title: “Now that I think of it… I am ashamed.”
He compared his actions to “Heathers” actor Christian Slater, who had been arrested a month earlier for sexually harassing a woman on a New York City street after grabbing her butt. The charges against Slater were later dropped.
“Though my hearty greeting was a function of being glad to see you… Christian Slater got arrested for a (kind of) similar act (though borne of an alleged negative intent, unlike my own)… and as a husband I can empathize with not liking to see my wife patted as such,” Cuomo wrote.
“So pass along my apology to your very good and noble husband… and I apologize to you as well, for ever putting you in such a position.
“Next time, I will remember the lesson, no matter how happy I am to see you.”
It wasn’t immediately clear how soon after the party Cuomo sent the email.
Ross, in her op-ed, questioned whether Cuomo was ashamed because of his actions or only because her husband witnessed it. She also claimed Cuomo tried to “legally differentiate” his behavior to that of Slater.
“Mr Cuomo may say this is a sincere apology. I’ve always seen it as an attempt to provide himself with legal and moral coverage to evade accountability,” Ross said.
“I never thought that Mr Cuomo’s behavior was sexual in nature. Whether he understood it at the time or not, his form of sexual harassment was a hostile act meant to diminish and belittle his female former boss in front of the staff.”
Cuomo said in a statement regarding the allegations: “As Shelley acknowledges, our interaction was not sexual in nature. It happened 16 years ago in a public setting when she was a top executive at ABC. I apologized to her then, and I meant it.”
Ross acknowledged she didn’t want Cuomo to lose his job, but said he needed to be held accountable in the wake of his involvement in his brother Andrew Cuomo’s sexual harassment scandal.
The prime-time CNN personality was among a handful of people consulting the disgraced former governor as he tried to salvage his career in the wake of the bombshell Attorney General’s report accusing him of sexually harassing 11 women.
There were widespread calls for CNN to fire the younger Cuomo in the aftermath.
“If Mr Cuomo and CNN management don’t think he crossed a serious line, one that warrants consequences, I know he crossed a line with me,” Ross said.