New York philanthropist is accused of sexual harassment

Published March 21, 2019, 11:54 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera & Richa Noriega

By Agence France-Presse

A New York billionaire and philanthropist, Michael Steinhardt, has been accused of sexual harassment by a series of women working for organizations that depended on his generosity, The New York Times and ProPublica reported on Thursday.

Steinhardt, 78, who made a fortune through hedge funds created in the 1960s, is a major donor to institutions like New York University and the Metropolitan Museum, which named a gallery after him.

Six women who spoke to the Times and ProPublica said Steinhardt asked them for sex on multiple occasions and often remarked on their physiques or sex lives. He is the latest high-profile figure accused of sexual misconduct since the downfall of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in late 2017 galvanized the #MeToo movement to quash pervasive sexual harassment in showbiz as well as other sectors including media, politics, and culture.

Worth an estimated $1.1 billion, according to Forbes magazine, Steinhardt co-founded or helped to fund a series of Jewish associations, schools and programs, such as Birthright Israel, which each year sends young American Jews to Israel expense-free, or Hillel International, a student aid association.

While none of the women — including Hillel International vice president Sheila Katz — had sexual relations with Steinhardt or were subjected to unwanted touching, all said they felt obliged to endure his comments without complaint for fear of hurting their organizations or derailing their careers, the Times said.

In a statement to the newspaper, Steinhardt acknowledged having made remarks over the years that were “boorish, disrespectful, and just plain dumb” but said they were always said in jest.

“I fully understand why they were inappropriate. I am sorry,” he said while denying through a spokesman many of the specific allegations made by the six women.

Last year, after an investigation into Steinhardt’s behavior, the Hillel association did not pursue a $50,000 donation he had pledged and removed him from its international board of governors, the Times and ProPublica said.

In 2012 and 2013, two sexual harassment suits were filed against a New York art gallery where Steinhardt was an important client.

While Steinhardt was not a defendant, he was mentioned as having made sexually loaded remarks to female employees of the gallery who were expected to put up with it.

Both suits were “resolved amicably with confidentiality agreements,” the women’s lawyer, Jeffrey Pollack, told the Times.