Home>Feature>From Berlin to Milwaukee, Murphy’s mishandling of workplace issues a pattern, senator says

Senate Republican Conference Leader Kristin Corrado. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

From Berlin to Milwaukee, Murphy’s mishandling of workplace issues a pattern, senator says

Corrado sees pattern in governor’s handling of toxic workplace complaints

By Nikita Biryukov, February 05 2020 6:00 pm

Senate Republican Conference Leader Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa) said she sees a pattern in Gov. Phil Murphy’s handling of toxic workplace issues, where his employees have faced harassment allegations in the governor’s office, his campaign and transition teams, and at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin while he was the ambassador.

“We know what harassment looks like. We know what a toxic work environment looks like, but I’m not sure the governor understands either concept,” Corrado said. “Certainly, when one person’s describing a toxic culture in a workplace and they describe it as a power struggle between two employees, then it became a personal issue between two employees.”

Among Corrado’s biggest gripes: “Every time they’ve sided with the male employee over the female employee, so that’s troubling.”

Two members of Murphy’s circle, Adam Alonso and Liz Gilbert, were fired from their positions with the Democratic National Convention’s Milwaukee host committee Tuesday over allegations that Alonso bullied and intimidated the organization’s female staffers.

Gilbert was the committee’s president. Alonso, a former Murphy deputy chief of staff whose consulting firm separated with the Democratic State Committee over the incident, was her chief of staff.

The episode is the fourth of such nature to bring controversy to Murphy’s political career.

The governor has for months faced fire over since-lifted non-disclosure agreements used during his campaign.

Julie Roginsky, a veteran Democratic strategist who has railed against NDAs used in cases of sexual harassment and other workplace issues, last month charged that Brendan Gill, then the governor’s campaign manager, used the C-word in an argument with her.

She said she was ultimately fired after informing Murphy about the incident, which the governor said an investigation deemed a “strong fundamental disagreement” between two top staffers.

For much of last year, the governor drew criticism over its handling of a sexual assault accusation mounted against a high-level campaign staffer who went on to hold a $170,000-per-year in his administration.

“It’s almost mind boggling how the people the governor chose to surround himself with keep having these issues over and over again,” Corrado said.

Katie Brennan, chief of staff at the state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, accused former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez of sexually assaulting her in April 2017, when he was in charge of Muslim and Latino outreach for Murphy’s campaign.

A small circle within the governor’s transition team were made aware of the allegations against Alvarez in November 2017, and Brennan directly informed Matt Platkin, Murphy’s chief counsel, about the alleged sexual assault in March 2018.

Alvarez stayed on for months until he resigned from his post in October 2018, after a Wall Street Journal reporter contacted him seeking comment on Brennan’s accusations.

“It keeps happening over and over again, and that describes a pattern,” Corrado said. “Unfortunately, it seems to be following him from one job to another.”

Issues with Murphy’s handling of harassment claims date back further.

A 2011 report released by the office of the State Department Inspector General found the U.S. embassy and consulates in Germany, where Murphy was then ambassador, were not “attentive” or “proactive” in responding to claims of harassment.

A later report, issued in early 2013, found those issues had largely been corrected, and a former deputy to then Ambassador Murphy told Politico New Jersey the governor responded to harassment claims promptly.

“There seems to be a disconnect. We keep talking about going forward, but if you don’t know what the issue is, you’re going to continue to make the same mistakes, so I think he would definitely benefit from some type of training,” Corrado said. “None of us are exempt from it. The legislators should go through it as well, and we do to some extent, but I think we’re looking at doing more down the road, and that’s bipartisan.”

To be clear, Murphy has never been accused of improper conduct as governor, ambassador, or as a top executive at Goldman Sachs.

One of Murphy’s former colleagues, Greg Smith, resigned as a top Goldman Sachs executive in 2012 and cited the “decline in the firm’s moral fiber.”

“I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it,” Smith said in an Op-Ed he wrote for the New York Times.

Murphy served on the Goldman Sachs management committee until he retired in 2005, but was not part of the same derivatives department where Smith worked.

Despite problems within his administration, campaign and foreign post staffs, Murphy has positioned himself as an opponent of toxic workplace culture.

He even mentioned Trenton’s culture of sexual harassment and assault during his state of the state address last month, though his comments did not cover any of his administration’s issues on the matter.

“I just keep shaking my head,” Corrado said. “Every time you think you’ve heard it all, something else happens.”

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