Shelley Ross, a veteran television producer and the former boss of Chris Cuomo at ABC News, accused him of sexual harassment Friday, saying he grabbed and squeezed her buttock at a party in 2005.
In an opinion essay published Friday in The New York Times, Ross described how she thought Cuomo, now a CNN anchor, "escaped accountability" for his involvement in managing the response to the sexual harassment scandal surrounding his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
In May, Chris Cuomo admitted that he had "inappropriate" strategy conversations with his older brother and promised to steer clear of CNN's coverage of the scandal. After the governor's resignation, the broadcaster said in August he urged his brother to resign "when the time came," but "never attacked nor encouraged anyone to attack any woman who came forward."
After highlighting moments that, she said, "crystallized for me how Mr. Cuomo performs," Ross revealed details of the 2005 incident at a going-away party for an ABC colleague.
"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 wrote. "'I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss,' he said to me with a kind of cocky arrogance."
In response, Ross recalled she said, "No, you can't." She said she pushed him away at the chest while stepping back to reveal her husband, who had seen the entire interaction unfold.
At some point shortly after the incident, Ross wrote, Cuomo apologized for his behavior in an email, saying he was "ashamed."
"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)," he wrote in a screenshot of his email attached to Ross' essay. "... and as a husband i can empathize with not liking to see my wife patted as such ... so pass along my apology to your very good and noble husband ... and i apologize to you as well, for even putting you in such a position ... next time, i will remember the lesson, no matter how happy i am to see you ..."
Ross said that she “never thought that Mr. Cuomo’s behavior was sexual in nature,” but described it as “a hostile act meant to diminish and belittle his female former boss in front of the staff.”
She added his subsequent apology felt more like "an attempt to provide himself with legal and moral coverage to evade accountability."
In a statement provided Thursday night to the Times, Cuomo said: “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.”
ABC and CAA, the agency that represents Cuomo, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday. CNN spokesperson Natalie Pahz pointed NBC News to Cuomo’s statement to the Times.
Ross was the executive producer of ABC's "Good Morning America" beginning in 1999. She left the network in 2006 amid reported conflicts with staff members. At some point afterward, she was assigned control of CBS' "The Early Show" before eventually being ousted from her job because of staff resignations and conflict.
Ross wrote an essay for the Daily Beast in 2016 that accused former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes of proposing a "sexual alliance" after she was hired as a segment producer on NBC's "Tomorrow Show" in 1981. Ailes was the executive producer of the "Tomorrow Show" at the time of the alleged incident.
In her latest Times essay, Ross wrote that she is not asking that Cuomo lose his job.
“I hope he stays at CNN forever if he chooses,” she said. “I would, however, like to see him journalistically repent: Agree on air to study the impact of sexism, harassment and gender bias in the workplace, including his own, and then report on it.”