TRENTON (January 7, 2019)–Katie Brennan, who came forward late last year with a rape allegation against former senior Murphy administration official Al Alvarez, filed suit (see embedded docs below) in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer County, on Monday against the State of New Jersey and Alvarez, seeking damages and an emergent application to change New Jersey’s policies and practices concerning the conduct of confidential workplace investigations.
The suit seeks a declaratory judgement granting immediate and emergent relief for Brennan, who was a 2017 Murphy campaign volunteer and is now Chief of Staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, from the State’s confidentiality requirements, and includes additional claims under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, as well as for assault and battery.
“Through her own experience, Ms. Brennan has seen firsthand how the State uses its ‘confidentiality’ policies to shield and protect wrongdoers and hide complaints of sexual misconduct and discrimination,” said attorney Katy McClure of Smith Eibeler, LLC. “Ms. Brennan’s action today is a step toward critical and meaningful change so that survivors of sexual assault and victims of discrimination and harassment in New Jersey will be heard, respected, and believed, rather than silenced, as Katie has been.”
In response to her December 4, 2018 testimony to the New Jersey Legislative Select Oversight Committee, the State of New Jersey’s Office of Equal Employment and Affirmative Action (EEO/AA) informed Brennan that it is opening an EEO/AA investigation concerning her testimony that she has felt ostracized in state employment since telling her story publicly in October 2018.
The EEO/AA informed Brennan of its “strict confidentiality directive” that it imposes upon all interviewed persons in EEO/AA investigations. Specifically, N.J.A.C. 4A:7-3.1 of the New Jersey State Policy Prohibiting Discrimination in the Workplace requires that “[a]ll persons interviewed, including witnesses, shall be directed not to discuss any aspect of the investigation with others in light of the important privacy interests of all concerned. Failure to comply with this confidentiality directive may result in administrative and/or disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”
Brennan began the effort to stop the State from enforcing the confidentiality directive against her and all other State employees who are victims of sexual misconduct and discrimination.
“State officials apparently had no regard for these confidentiality protocols when they told Ms. Brennan’s rapist about her reports,” McClure noted, citing testimony before the Senate committee by Murphy officials on December 18. “But conveniently, they cited confidentiality as the reason they withheld the rape complaint from Governor Murphy. The Murphy administration has used confidentiality as a convenient excuse to explain the complete and inexcusable mishandling of a rape case on their watch.”
“Now, after forcing Ms. Brennan to tell her story publicly in order to be heard, the State seeks to silence Ms. Brennan under the guise of conducting an investigation; an investigation that if the State had followed its own protocols and policies, should have commenced more than a year ago,” said McClure. “As we have seen in other employment harassment and discrimination matters, if Ms. Brennan cooperates and proceeds with the State’s investigation, she will be required to sign a contract with the State requiring her to adhere to the State’s strict confidentiality directive.”
“The State’s policy and practice of imposing ‘strict confidentiality’ upon victims is another example of the system failing for survivors and protecting the accused,” said Brennan. “If the administration is serious about changing the way it uses improperly uses confidentiality in workplace investigations, ending its practice in imposing strict confidentiality upon victims is a great first place to start.”
The action Brennan filed Monday seeks equitable relief by asking the Court to do the following:
- Preclude the State from enforcing the strict confidentiality directive against Brennan, including barring the State from requiring her to sign the confidentiality directive contract;
- Require the EEO/AA Office to investigate the numerous violations of the State’s Policy Prohibiting Discrimination in the Workplace as set forth in Brennan’s complaint;
- Relieve Brennan from being required to participate in any EEO/AA investigation until after the conclusion of all related criminal proceedings; and
- Declare the “strict confidentiality directive” of N.J.A.C. 4A:7-3.1(j) null and void.
The complaint begins Brennan’s formal civil complaint against Alvarez arising from the events of April 9, 2018.
On December 28, 2018, Brennan’s legal team submitted a Notice of Tort Claim, pursuant to requirements in New Jersey law, regarding the fact that the State of New Jersey negligently, intentionally and or with reckless disregard hired and retained Mr. Alvarez.
“Ms. Brennan is pursuing justice through this lawsuit because I couldn’t get it any other way,” said McClure. “She pursued every avenue she could, but waved every red flag she could access, and she was ignored. As Ms. Brennan has said, if she cannot get justice through currently available complaint systems, who can? It should never have come to this, but every opportunity to take meaningful action was met with disregard.”brennan_complaint