It has taken three difficult years, but the volunteer for Gov. Phil Murphy’s election campaign whose rape accusation was ignored has prevailed. She has exposed state practices that don’t match officials’ rhetoric about supporting sexual assault victims, shed light on corrupt hiring and compelled the state and campaign to pay a $1 million civil suit settlement.
Katie Brennan complained to police and hospital workers in April 2017 and in return got the silent treatment from state and local officials. Prosecutors didn’t tell her until seven months later they wouldn’t pursue the case.
Three times she notified high-level Murphy administration officials. They ignored her and hired the fellow campaign staffer she said assaulted her, who denied the accusation. Nothing happened until 18 months after the incident, when her story appeared in The Wall Street Journal.
Legislative hearings followed that found Murphy aides knew about the case for months, even though the governor said he first learned of it in the newspaper. Then came a report highly critical of the administration’s handling of her case. In November, Murphy finally said campaign staff who had been required to sign confidentiality agreements could speak about workplace conditions described by some as “toxic.”
An investigation by The Record, a Bergen County newspaper, into how the accused was hired by the state Schools Development Authority uncovered a major patronage scandal. The authority’s CEO, also a State Democratic Committee executive, fired 26 mostly career professionals and hired 41 others — nearly all were her relatives, family friends, former co-workers or political allies.
Denied the criminal prosecution she sought, Brennan pressed a civil case against the Murphy campaign and the state. Murphy for Governor Inc. will pay $200,000 of the settlement announced last week and the state will pay $800,000.
The state Republican organization has asked the N.J. Election Law Enforcement Commission to determine if the state’s share constitutes an illegal campaign contribution to Murphy’s campaign.
Brennan will keep none of the money, $400,000 of which will pay her attorneys. She is directing the rest — $600,000 — to the nonprofit Waterfront Project in Hudson County to help low-income survivors of sexual assault.
In the settlement, the state agreed to allow those alleging sexual assault or harassment to have a support person during interviews by investigators with the state Equal Employment Opportunity office. The state also agreed to help Brennan present proposed reforms to the state Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Council.
Murphy called the settlement “fair and reasonable” and said he looks forward to continuing work on reforms to support survivors in the workplace.
Brennan said speaking out gave her “great strength.” It must also feel good to know she has made such a difference.