Labor law expert says Murphy administration mishandled Brennan case

National labor law expert Charles Sullivan spent Day 8 of hearings before the Select Oversight Committee excoriating how the Murphy administration handled Katie Brennan’s complaint. Brennan reported being deeply upset working in state government at the same time as Al Alvarez — the man she accused of sexually assaulting her during the Murphy campaign in April 2017.

“If Ms. Brennan were exposed to Mr. Alvarez in the workplace in a sufficiently severe, abrasive way, then I think that creates a contaminated work environment and the state has an obligation to deal with that appropriately,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the administration was obligated even though the alleged rape occurred during the campaign, and he directly contradicted legal advice from Murphy’s transition and current counsel, noting they did not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt in order to act.

“Would you agree there were flaws in the way this was handled by the administration?”committee co-counsel Michael Critchley asked Sullivan.

“I think we’re all sitting here because of flaws in the way this was handled by the administration,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan said the administration should have investigated further when Brennan originally made the allegations in Dec. 2017; that it should have told the persons who hired Alvarez — whoever they are — about those allegations before Alvarez was hired; should have recorded decisions about Alvarez’s employment; should have followed up, after first ordering Alvarez to leave his state job at the Schools Development Authority last spring; and most definitely should have told the governor.

“Because Mr. Alvarez was an at-will employee, could he have been immediately terminated at that point?” asked co-counsel Joseph Hayden.

“Yes,” Sullivan replied.

“I do see how people could come to the conclusion that the system failed Katie Brennan,” Critchley said.

Two county prosecutors have declined to charge Alvarez, who’s denied the allegations and left his job last October after Brennan took her story to the news media. The Murphy administration has since published new regulations for handling sexual assault allegations in state government. But one witness Tuesday also condemned how the administration dealt with the Brennan case.

“If you believed Katie Brennan then didn’t you believe New Jersey deserved someone better than her perpetrator in our government? Didn’t Katie Brennan deserve someone better than her perpetrator as a colleague?” asked Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

The committee is nearing the end of its investigation. They emphasized it was wrong of Murphy’s staff not to tell the governor.

“The most bizarre thing that we heard earlier today was how wrong it was not to tell him what was going on,” said committee co-chair Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin.

“You can’t say the buck stops here if you haven’t been informed,” said co-chair Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

The committee will meet again to go over the hours of testimony and information. A deadline is fast approaching. They’d like to wrap the hearings before legislative budget hearings begin.