ALBANY, N.Y. — A former top official at a New York agency fired last year for what authorities called “reprehensible” sexual harassment is still making $136,000 a year while doing no work at another state agency, according to payroll records obtained by The Associated Press.
Jay Kiyonaga was let go last May by the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities after investigators documented instances of sexually inappropriate conduct and comments going back several years. Kiyonaga had been the No. 2 official at the agency for less than a year.
Yet on the same day his termination was announced, Kiyonaga was allowed to return to his previous job at another agency, the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, which investigates mistreatment of disabled people. That’s because state employment law allows people in some management positions to return to their previous job if fired within one year of their promotion.
Now, nearly a year later, Kiyonaga remains on paid suspension at the Justice Center. He is barred from the office and performs no actual duties — yet he will keep his paycheque as the agency pursues his termination.
The state’s handling of sexual harassment complaints is under intense scrutiny as the #metoo movement continues to highlight the problem in both the public and private sectors. State lawmakers earlier this year held their first hearing focused on harassment in nearly three decades.
Kiyonaga did not immediately respond to phone and email messages left Wednesday and Thursday.
According to an inspector general’s report last year, investigators uncovered multiple instances of Kiyonaga speaking inappropriately about sexual matters and making sexual advances to female coworkers. One woman staffer also filed a federal harassment complaint alleging that Kiyonaga retaliated against her for complaining about his conduct.
In response to questions about Kiyonaga’s employment, Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said the governor has proposed revising state work force rules to make it easier to fire bad employees while still offering job protections to good workers.
“It is egregious that current law makes getting rid of bad actors so difficult,” Azzopardi wrote in a statement emailed to the AP, adding that Cuomo will work with lawmakers to rewrite the rules. “We will be pursuing changes.”
Officials did not disclose Kiyonaga’s continued employment with the state when they announced his termination from the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.
“OPWDD does not tolerate harassment of any kind,” the agency said in a statement announcing Kiyonaga’s firing last year. “Based on the findings of the inspector general’s Office, Mr. Kiyonaga has been terminated by our agency.”
After several years spent working at the Justice Center, Kiyonaga was promoted to the second-highest position at the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities two years ago. His annual salary in 2017 was $171,000.
That same year, the former special prosecutor at the Justice Center accused Kiyonaga of retaliating against her for speaking up about his alleged misconduct. The former prosecutor, who said Kiyonaga cut her staff and shut her out of meetings, later resigned and filed a federal harassment complaint against the Justice Center and Kiyonaga.
The Justice Center initially said it found no merit to the woman’s claims but then fired Kiyonaga following the investigation by the inspector general.
The Justice Center will now not allow Kiyonaga in its offices and is “aggressively pursuing” his termination, according to agency spokeswoman Christine Buttigieg. She said that once Kiyonaga returned to the agency as an employee he was immediately suspended without pay for 30 days — the maximum allowed by law — before officials had to start paying him again.
“Unfortunately he has a legal right to remain on Justice Center payroll and the Justice Center has a legal obligation to continue to pay him until the administrative proceeding concludes,” Buttigieg said. “This is the same for all state employees employed through our civil service system.”
David Klepper, The Associated Press