Home>Governor>Murphy administration mishandled Alvarez allegations, employment law expert says

Seton Hall University Law Professor Charles Sullivan.

Murphy administration mishandled Alvarez allegations, employment law expert says

By Nikita Biryukov, February 26 2019 12:31 pm

Preeminent law professor Charles Sullivan on Tuesday told the Select Committee investigating Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration’s hiring of former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez that he believes the administration mishandled the allegations against the former staffer.

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

State Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency chief of staff Katie Brennan has accused Alvarez of sexually assaulting her in April 2017, when he was in charge of Muslim and Latino Outreach for Murphy’s gubernatorial campaign, for which Brennan would later volunteer.

Alvarez has denied the allegations.

Following the campaign, Alvarez was deputy director of personnel for Murphy’s transition team. Alvarez remained at the Schools Development Authority for several months after top Murphy staffers, including Murphy chief counsel Matt Platkin and former chief of staff Pete Cammarano, became aware of Brennan’s allegations against him.

Though Alvarez was asked to separate himself from state employment on at least two occasions — in March and June of 2018, according to sworn testimony by current and former Murphy staffers — he did not leave his job at the SDA until October 2018.

Speaking generally, Sullivan said that the administration could and should have investigated allegations like Brennan’s when they first became aware of them, even if the identity of the accuser was not known.

Administration officials have previously said they did not have the jurisdiction to conduct an investigation, a determination that was made by the state Attorney General’s Equal Employment Opportunity office, but Sullivan said that the administration should have conducted an investigation, even if prosecutors declined to press criminal charges against Alvarez.

“If all we’re talking about is an investigation, I don’t see any claim that the accused would have that he has a right not to be asked about charges that were brought against him,” Sullivan said. “This is not a criminal proceeding. This is all civil.”

Murphy was kept out of the loop on Alvarez. Current and former members of his staff, including Platkin have testified that they should have, in hindsight, told him about the allegations against Alvarez.

Sullivan said that, by his reading of the law, there was no reason that Murphy could not have been told of the allegations.

In either case, Sullivan’s testimony makes clear the administration was not legally obliged to hire Alvarez.

“No,” Sullivan said when asked if there was a legal bar to not hire Alvarez based on the allegations against him, adding that those allegations should still be investigated beforehand. “Just as there would be no legal bar for refusing to hire someone who is accused of embezzlement .”

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