As the Legislature investigates the Murphy administration’s mishandling of Katie Brennan’s rape charge, and the rest of us wonder how her alleged rapist got a job and a fat raise, a broader issue is brewing.
Is the mistreatment of women a common occurrence in Murphy world?
This week, Jonathan Berkon, an attorney for Phil Murphy’s campaign, testified that no women complained about the atmosphere in the campaign. But at least three have now done so in the press.
Others might want to come forward. Those who have spoken might want to say more. Yet strict non-disclosure agreements that Murphy made hundreds of volunteers and paid staffers sign now may prohibit them from speaking to the press about any aspect of their work.
At the very least, they create a chilling effect: If you can’t afford a lawyer, you’d be scared of getting sued. Women likely also fear the impact that speaking out might have on their government careers. Only three have taken the risk.
The first was Brennan, a top Murphy housing official, who testified that she was raped by Al Alvarez after a campaign gathering, that she told several senior Murphy staffers, and yet nothing was done. She was then left out of meetings after objecting to the hiring of her alleged rapist for a senior post in the administration, she says. Not only was Alvarez promoted, he reportedly got a $30,000 raise.
The second woman, Allison Kopicki, a senior economic development official, says she was also sidelined in the Murphy administration after complaining about the behavior of a male campaign staffer.
She was excluded from meetings about an economic development plan she helped craft, Kopicki says, as retaliation after she raised concerns that Joe Kelley created a hostile work environment for women while he was deputy campaign manager.
Like Alvarez, Kelley got a big promotion. He is now Murphy’s deputy chief of staff, defended as “an integral member of our state’s economic development team” by the governor’s spokesman. This was after he threw a chair while a female subordinate was in the room.
The third woman, Julia Fahl, was that woman in the room. Now the mayor of Lambertville, Fahl said she admires Murphy, looks forward to working with him and is “confident that the toxic workplace issues I experienced firsthand on the campaign will be addressed.”
But while Murphy insists his campaign took the work environment seriously, he also appeared dismissive. “If that’s how she felt, those are her feelings and I respect her,” the governor initially said of Fahl, while on a trip to Germany with Kelley, the chair-hurler he promoted.
Then Murphy added, “I did not see it that way. Every campaign is an intense experience. You never have enough space. You’re on top of each other.”
How, exactly, would this lead a man to throw a chair?
A campaign is not special. Working in a hospital emergency room is an intense experience. Imagine if your surgeon flew into a rage and hurled furniture. It doesn’t inspire confidence.
Now imagine a female resident was suddenly sidelined after complaining about it, while he got a big promotion. It’s not ok in government either.
You wonder: Are women who speak up seen as having betrayed the club?
Meanwhile, the men are rewarded. And why is there a gag order, preventing women from talking about bad behavior on the Murphy campaign?
As a show of good faith, Murphy should release women in writing from their strict non-disclosure agreements, so they are free to discuss their work environment. If it wasn’t toxic, they will surely say so.
There’s a place for confidentiality, when it comes to strategy or policy. But it can’t be used to silence people. If Murphy refuses to lift the gag order, that can only lead us to conclude that he has something to hide.