Former staffer for NJ Gov. Phil Murphy scores $1 million settlement over sexual assault incident

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TRENTON, N.J.- What is it with politicians and sexual assault?

We all remember Bill Clinton and the blue dress. Yes, we know that was consensual. There’s just that little thing about sexual harassment and stuff.

Then more recently we had Joe Biden and Tara Reade.

Now, it’s an aide to Democrat New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. Murphy’s campaign and New Jersey taxpayers are on the hook for a $1 million legal settlement to a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by Murphy’s aide during his 2017 gubernatorial run.

 

NorthJersey.com reported that the woman, Katie Brennan, made an agreement to settle the case in lieu of the $1 million settlement.

The man whom she accused, Al Alvarez, will have to enter a “restorative justice” program, and he has agreed to attend an anti-sexual harassment class. Brennan is also required to attend the program as part of the settlement.

As part of the settlement, $600,000 will go to a charity of Brennan’s choice, while her attorneys will realize a $400,000 payday.

The state of New Jersey and Murphy for Governor, Inc. will pay the settlement. NJ.com reported that neither party admitted any wrongdoing.

Brennan noted that the charity portion of her settlement will go to a non-profit group, Waterfront Project, which will use the donation in order to help low-income survivors of sexual assault.

As part of the restorative justice program, it will also include an “anti-sexual harassment” class for Alvarez, as well as facilitate meetings between Brennand and Alvarez within six months.

“I hope that this can create a model program for other New Jersey survivors,” Brennand stated. “Living in silence did not serve me or any other survivors in this state. Speaking out gave me great strength.”

The New Jersey Law Journal said that in addition to the monetary settlement, victims of discrimination, harassment or retaliation will be allowed to be accompanied by an adviser or support person during an interview by a division investigator.

That will be facilitated by the New Jersey Division of Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action in the New Jersey Civil Service Commission.

This particular program was one of a number of changes in either state law or policies that Brennan had asked for after she said that the system had “failed her” after she made her complaint.

Brennan will also be permitted by the state to make a presentation about additional proposed reforms to the state attorney general’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Council, a news release said.

Brennan went public with her allegations in October 2017 to a national news outlet, alleging that Alvarez had raped her six months earlier. She further said that Murphy’s administration had blocked her efforts to hold both Alvarez and the governor’s office that hired him accountable.

In response to the settlement, Murphy said:

“It’s a fair and reasonable settlement. We’ve worked collaboratively and constructively with Katie and her team to institute meaningful reforms to support survivors in the workplace.

We look forward to continuing our work on these issues to make New Jersey a leading state for survivor-centric policies as we have been doing now for a long time.”

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Brennan who joined Murphy’s campaign as a volunteer said she was raped by Alvarez in her apartment in 2017 after the two had attended a gathering with other members of Murphy’s campaign.  

Brennan went public with her allegations in 2018. That led to a firestorm that resulted in legislative hearings, as well as a critical legislative report which focused on how Brennan’s case was mishandled.

 

NJ.com said that aside from the specifics of the Brennan complaint, the incident led to conversations in the state capital about non-disclosure agreements in campaigns, the handling of sexual assault complaints within state government, and a “culture of sexual harassment and misogyny in New Jersey politics.”

According to NJ.com, “20 female campaign staffers, lobbyists, political operatives and lawmakers shared stories of being groped, sexually propositioned, harassed or marginalized while trying to build careers in state and local politics.”

The women said that politics and government seems to serve as a breeding ground for misogyny, where if women want to have a chance for success in the political realm.

Some of the women told stories about being sexually assaulted after work in the past five years. One complained about being drugged at a political convention over ten years ago. Many spoke of being touched inappropriately or having sexual remarks made to them, some as recently as last year, after Brennan’s complaint.

New Jersey, and likely more states than just that seem to serve as a breeding ground for sexual harassment and/or sexual assault and many unfortunately appear to turn a blind eye to it. One political consultant said:

“Despite everything we hear about #MeToo, it has not made one difference in New Jersey. It just hasn’t I hate to be so negative.”

After Brennan went public, Alvarez denied the allegations and was never arrested, with two county prosecutors who reviewed the case declining to prosecute.

Brennan worked on Murphy’s campaign as the head of Latino and Muslim outreach, while Alvarez later served as deputy director of personnel for the Murphy transition team, while he afterward was chief of staff to the New Jersey Schools Development Authority.

When Brennan went public with her allegations against him, Alvarez was forced to resign.

Brennan seemed relieved that the long process was hover, and she said she was “hopeful” that she helped facilitate the reforms she was hoping for. She was also grateful for the assistance she received from her attorneys, advisers, and sexual assault survivor groups, she said.

“From legislation and the release from NDAs, to greater awareness of harassment and assault, we’ve made great progress. Each reform sets us on a path toward justice. Each reform makes it worth the pain,” Brennan said.

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