Home>Governor>Murphy administration seeks to dismiss Neuwirth’s retaliation claim

Former Assistant Health Commissioner Chris Neuwirth, left, with Department of Health Communicable Disease Service Medical Director Edward Lifshitz.

Murphy administration seeks to dismiss Neuwirth’s retaliation claim

State lawyers argue whistleblower retaliation protections don’t apply post-termination

By Nikita Biryukov, September 10 2020 1:59 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration asked a Mercer County Superior Court judge to dismiss one count of a whistleblower suit brought by former Assistant Health Commissioner Chris Neuwirth Wednesday.

The motion wants to strike from Neuwirth’s suit a claim that the administration retaliated against Neuwirth in the wake of his firing, which the former state employee alleges the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, a New Jersey law that provides protection for whistleblowers.

Neuwirth’s suit claims the administration sought to defame him after his firing, pointing to anonymously sourced statements made to the press, including the New Jersey Globe, that claimed Neuwirth’s firing dealt with his moonlighting at Margolis Healy & Associates, a national emergency management consulting firm affiliated with the Cozen O’Connor law firm.

In late May, sources told the New Jersey Globe Neuwirth was separated from state government because of poor attendance.

They said he was spending more time at Margolis Healey as the pandemic wore on. Neuwirth did not report his consulting job, which the firm’s website said he held for two years, on personal financial disclosure statements filed with the State Ethics Commission, though he has claimed those above him in the chain of command were aware of the part-time gig.

Neuwirth also charges anonymous administration officials falsely identified him as the subject of an internal probe to find the source of embarrassing leaks from within the Department of Health. Those leaks continued after Neuwirth’s termination.

The motion filed by attorneys for the state, which was first reported by Law360, claim CEPA “does not provide a cause of action for post-termination retaliatory actions,” meaning they believe it only applies to action taken while an individual is still employed by an offending organization.

The administration’s bid for a dismissal does not extend to Neuwirth’s claim that he was fired for refusing to personally administer COVID-19 test to family members of Murphy’s chief of staff, though the state denies those allegations.

It does, however, seek to strike mentions of the alleged post-termination retaliation from other places in Neuwirth’s suit, claiming that such actions are irrelevant to Neuwirth’s termination.

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