Greenwich Employee Details Retaliation And Betrayal Two Years After Alleged Assault | Connecticut Public Radio
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Greenwich Employee Details Retaliation And Betrayal Two Years After Alleged Assault

Dec 16, 2018

Lynn Mason never took her eyes off Christopher von Keyserling -- the man walking behind her who had just grabbed her groin.

“I started to follow my supervisor out of my office and I realized now he’s behind me again, and my instincts just took over,” Mason said, as she watched a newly-obtained surveillance video of the 2016 event. “We kind of jostled to get out of the door, and then when we were outside, I just said, ‘Get out of here, get out of here, get out of here.’”

She pointed down the hall. Von Keyserling stood there. Mason then ran back into her office, shut the door, and locked it. He tried to follow, but couldn’t get inside.

“I was shaking,” she said. “I was so angry and I was so upset and just shaking.”

Now, two years later and sitting at her kitchen table, Mason remembered how she felt that day -- locked behind a closed door, with Von Keyserling on the other side.

“I hid behind the door, and he was shaking the handle trying to get back in,” she said. “It was really, really creepy at that point. And I just stayed in the office.”

This happened in December of 2016 at Nathaniel Witherell, the publicly-owned Greenwich nursing home where Mason worked. At the time she was a Greenwich town employee, working as a music therapist, and von Keyserling was an elected official. Donald Trump had just been elected president and, moments before the alleged assault, von Keyserling said that he “loves this new world,” and that he “doesn’t have to be politically correct anymore.” That’s what Mason told police, and the incident made international news.  

A screenshot of a section of the arrest warrant for Christopher von Keyserling.

Von Keyserling was later arrested for fourth-degree sexual assault. He pleaded not guilty and his case is heading to trial in November 2019.  But he nevertheless admitted to grabbing Mason, saying it was a “little pinch” and a “joke,” according to police records. 

But the encounter with von Keyserling was only the beginning of Mason’s troubles. Now two pieces of the puzzle have been provided to Connecticut Public Radio that offer some insight into what happened that day, and the months of trauma that followed -- which Mason calls the “second assault.”

The Video

The surveillance video was obtained by the station through a Freedom of Information Act request that was initially denied by the town of Greenwich. The station appealed to the Freedom of Information Commission, which overturned the denial and ordered the video’s release.

While the video shows the aftermath of the alleged sexual assault, it does not show the moment when von Keyserling grabbed Mason’s groin. That happened behind the closed door of her office. Von Keyserling deferred comment to his lawyer, Phil Russell, who spoke with Connecticut Public Radio and accepted an offer to provide a statement. However, the statement was never provided.

When Connecticut Public Radio had previously covered this story, Russell said that "the video doesn't support [Mason's] contention.”

Two other Witherell employees -- Mary Bruce, who was Mason’s boss, and Amy DeMezzo -- left the office ahead of Mason and von Keyserling. Neither of them witnessed the alleged assault, Mason said. DeMezzo declined to be interviewed. Bruce, who retired earlier this year, could not be reached for comment.

Ten seconds are also missing from the video footage. Greenwich officials have said that’s because the cameras are motion-activated and shut off after a period of inactivity. But Mason said there was motion during the time that’s missing.

The entire experience left Mason stunned, and she’s needed psychiatric care and medication as a result. But for her, the difficulty has been magnified by how her coworkers treated her after she reported it.

“I still have nightmares,” she said. “They’re not usually about him, they’re about me screaming at the people who betrayed me.”

The Draft Report

As time went on, stress began to overwhelm her. Mason wanted her desk moved to another office, but Witherell wouldn’t comply. She filed a grievance with her union, but negotiations with the town went nowhere. She eventually withdrew her grievance, and filed a complaint about how she was being treated by the town with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, or CHRO.

The purpose of a CHRO investigation is to determine if “reasonable cause” can be found to allow a complaint to continue to a public hearing or other court of law. The investigator found reasonable cause in Mason’s case, although Greenwich disputes that conclusion and the process used to reach it. A public hearing to review the draft report has not yet been scheduled.

Mason provided a copy of CHRO’s draft ruling to Connecticut Public Radio.  The report highlights several things that Witherell management got wrong after Mason came forward.

Lynn Mason sits at her kitchen table in October 2018.
Credit Amar Batra / Connecticut Public Radio

Mason reported the alleged assault to Mary Bruce, her boss, soon after it happened. Mason also reported it to Lynn Bausch, who was Witherell’s acting director at the time. However, a CHRO investigator found that neither Bruce nor Bausch reported the incident to the town’s human resources department. In its statement to Connecticut Public Radio, the town also said Mason did not make clear the “extremely invasive nature” of the complaint at the time.

Bruce and Bausch “failed to immediately report the incident,” the report stated, adding that Greenwich -- acting on its own and without direction from CHRO -- eventually retrained them on sexual harassment reporting procedures. However, the town said that Witherell employees had already received sexual harassment training on different dates in 2015 and mid-2016, just months before the incident.

A section of CHRO's "finding of reasonable cause" document. "Complainant" refers to Lynn Mason.

Additionally, Witherell management rejected Mason’s request to have her desk moved when she came back to work after the alleged assault. Mason offered several different areas as possible spaces for her desk to be relocated, but the investigator found that Witherell rejected each suggestion. When management finally found a space for her, they suggested moving her to a unit where she would have sat with her back to dementia patients.

“This posed a safety issue as dementia patients can be unpredictable in their behavior,” the report noted.

Greenwich Assistant Town Attorney Valerie Maze-Keeney said the CHRO investigation was “incomplete” and poorly done.

“Importantly, the investigator declined to interview Ms. Bruce,” Maze-Keeney wrote in a statement, referring to Mason’s former boss. “Likewise, the investigator did not review the Nathaniel Witherell surveillance video as requested.”

Maze-Keeney also claimed that town officials took appropriate action after learning what had happened, which included banning von Keyserling from Witherell and contacting police.

CHRO representatives declined to comment, as Mason’s case remains open.

Putting It Together

Von Keyserling is known in Greenwich to say inappropriate things toward women. He once told a female town employee that her daughter “had a nice rear end or something to that effect,” the CHRO report said. His attitude toward women even contributed to the resignation of at least one of his colleagues from Greenwich’s Representative Town Meeting, Sarah Darer Littman.

In Mason’s case, the surveillance video could offer some insight into why events unfolded in such a way. At one point, after von Keyserling and Mason leave her office, von Keyserling embraces Mason’s boss, Mary Bruce, in the hallway. Von Keyserling has long advocated to maintain Witherell’s status as a publicly-operated facility, and he’s pushed back against ongoing efforts to privatize.

Mason suggested that von Keyserling’s advocacy on behalf of the facility is why Bruce and Bausch failed to report the incident. Bausch retired when Bruce did, and she also couldn’t be reached for comment. Greenwich maintains its employees did everything by the book.

Mason has since taken a job in another town office. She said the efforts to discredit her and minimize her experience took its toll.

“My credibility was very, very important to me,” Mason said. “Because that’s what they do, they start to tear down your credibility. That was the main concern, but also that somebody I had worked with for 23 years would betray me like that, for what?”

Witherell employee Sandy Heath was also in the room prior to the incident, and she can be seen in the video leaving before the others exit. She didn’t see what happened, but in an interview, Heath described Mason as “brutally honest” and said “it’s crazy” for anyone to call Mason’s integrity into question.

“The major person who turned against her was someone she had worked for” for years, Heath said, adding that Bruce “was supposed to be her friend.”

“She definitely did not deserve it,” Heath said.

Mason has referred to the mishandling of her complaint by her coworkers as “the second assault,” saying it’s had a significant impact on her mental health.

“I was being kind of victimized a second time,” she said. “That second one, I’ve learned, can be more devastating than what the sick person did to you.”

The negative impact that can stem from reporting sexual assault allegations is a key reason why many women do not come forward, according to psychologist Beverly Engel.

“Fear of the repercussions is a huge obstacle women face when it comes to reporting sexual harassment or assault,” Engel wrote in Psychology Today. “Victims' accounts are often scrutinized to the point of exhaustion. In high-profile cases, victims are often labeled opportunists, blamed for their own victimization, and punished for coming forward.”

There has been some light at the end of the tunnel for Mason. After pressing charges against von Keyserling, Mason’s received an outpouring of support from people around the country. Her story preceded the broader #MeToo movement, which erupted as people came forward with stories of being sexually harassed or assaulted within a culture that often turns a blind eye to these allegations.

“The only reason sexual assault can occur at the level we’re seeing -- especially since the Me Too movement -- is through the complicity of the people who surround the perpetrator and the complicity [of the people] to whom the victim reports it,” Mason said.

The Greenwich #MeToo movement led to the ouster of von Keyserling from the town’s Representative Town Meeting, a seat he had held for over three decades, on Election Day in 2017. Many women were also voted into power that year.

Even though Mason never wanted to be a voice of activism, she said she has no regrets.

“Things have come a long way, and I’m so grateful to the people who fought for me,” she said. “They reported it at a much more difficult time. We have laws now. The only reason those laws are there is because somebody else said, ‘There’s gonna be some other woman down the line.’ And I’m very grateful to them, I’ll never stop being grateful, and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Clarification: As the story notes, Christopher von Keyserling has told police he pinched Lynn Mason. He also pleaded not guilty to fourth-degree sexual assault. The criminal case has yet to be adjudicated.  In order to better reflect the status of von Keyserling's court proceedings, the headline has been edited to reflect that the criminal charges are still allegations.