SCHENECTADY — Two assistant attorneys in the Schenectady County Public Defender’s Office were on break one day last October when the conversation turned to what the women were hoping for in a new office space, including new meeting rooms for clients.
Just then, the head of the office, Public Defender Stephen Signore, entered the conversation and suggested adding a hot tub if there were enough room.
Signore then looked at the women, both his underlings, and said, “but you know you can’t wear bathing suits in the hot tub.”
The alleged incident was detailed in a sexual harassment complaint filed by one of the women in February in which she described a hostile work environment inside the Public Defender’s Office, where women were subjected to “inappropriate comments” made by the top official in the office, Signore.
The Daily Gazette obtained a copy of the complaint after reporting earlier this week that Signore was issued a written warning and ordered to complete additional training after an investigation completed by the county’s attorney and manager’s office determined comments he made “regarding a hot tub in the office” violated the county’s sexual harassment policy.
The woman, whom the Gazette is not naming, reported that Signore tried to pass the hot tub remark off as a joke, but detailed several other incidents where Signore allegedly made inappropriate comments. She also claims that several individuals in recent months have either quit or were planning on leaving the Public Defender’s Office to avoid Signore’s behavior.
“At work, I felt like I was hired as something pretty to look at,” the complaint reads. “I felt so uncomfortable at the office and that I had to agree with sexist jokes so I wouldn’t stand out at the office.”
Signore did not return a request seeking comment for this story.
He has been a Schenectady County employee for more than 30 years, serving in a number of positions with the county attorney’s office before being appointed public defender in 2015. He also served as a Democrat on the Rotterdam Town Board before losing a re-election bid for a second term in 2021.
The woman, who filed the complaint shortly before leaving her position, describes having her lifelong dream of being a public defender ripped away from her by Signore, and felt “gross” having to go to work everyday.
She also describes attending therapy to deal with Signore’s comments and changing her wardrobe, makeup and hair routines in hopes that “it would draw less attention to my appearance.”
“I’ve wanted to be a public defender since I read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in 9th grade. Because of Steve, I can no longer pursue my dream of being a public defender and am leaving employment with Schenectady County,” the complaint reads.
The woman also outlines numerous other comments Signore allegedly made during her time with the office, including jokes about how he didn’t like women wearing high heels because they made women appear taller than him.
One incident outlined took place when there were two pregnant attorneys in the office. Signore allegedly told women in the office not to drink from a “specific container of water so that there wouldn’t be a third pregnant female attorney,” according to the complaint.
County Attorney Chris Gardner has said previously that other aspects of the complaint were not determined to be founded following an investigation.
Gardner did not return an email seeking comment Friday.
“Much of the complaint was found not to be founded; one portion was found to be founded,” he said previously. “A lot of different employees were interviewed and that is what we came up with.”
Gardner also previously said that Signore has had a long and distinguished career with the county and has never been accused of behavior laid out in the complaint.
But the complaint states that several other individuals recently left, or were planning to leave, because of Signore’s behavior.
“I know I am not the only person leaving the office because of Steve,” the complaint reads. “Ever since I put in my 2 weeks notice, I have felt much happier and more secure.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.