Murphy won’t say if he’ll punish allies over ‘toxic workplace environment’ allegations

Posted Feb 18, 2020

As he introduced sweeping new proposals to make it tougher to get away with sexual harassment in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday declined to say whether he would punish or distance himself from aides and allies accused of creating a “toxic workplace environment" during his 2017 campaign.

But Murphy insisted his campaign took those concerns “seriously” and “addressed them.”

“Every time anyone raised, has raised, (or) will raise today or anytime in the future any concerns whatsoever about workplace conditions, every single time those concerns have been taken seriously, they’ve been addressed, and they’ve been run to ground,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference in Trenton. “And that will continue to be the case.”

Murphy was then asked more directly if he plans to fire or cut ties with anyone in his orbit facing such allegations.

“I literally have nothing else to add,” he responded.

Asked a third time, Murphy said: “I’m not going to comment on any specific situation. But believe me, there are repercussions if people are found to have violated whatever the code of conduct is."

The comments came after Murphy announced he’s supporting legislation that would require all New Jersey employers — public and private — to provide anti-harassment training developed by the state. He also said he backs legislation to make clear that one act of sexual harassment would be enough for someone in the state to file a civil complaint.

But Murphy has been dogged by allegations that his campaign for governor was toxic, especially for women. A former adviser, Julie Roginsky, publicly said the campaign was “the most toxic workplace environment I have ever seen in 25 years of working on political campaigns.”

Last month, Murphy downplayed Roginsky’s accusations, saying she was involved in a dispute with senior staffers and that her comments did not reflect “a larger workplace issue.”

Other women on the campaign have made made similar accusations, some anonymously.

Julia Fahl complained that Joe Kelley, a top campaign official who is now a deputy chief of staff to the governor, angrily threw a chair in her presence. Fahl left the campaign seven months after the incident and later released a statement mentioning “toxic workplace issues” in 2018.

A Murphy campaign attorney, Jonathan Berkon, said Fahl’s "concerns were promptly reviewed and addressed” and that she “acknowledged his conduct improved afterwards.”

Fahl, now the mayor of Lambertville, declined to comment Tuesday.

In addition, Allison Kopicki, who worked in Murphy’s administration, said she was frozen out of meetings after she complained about the treatment of women in the governor’s transition. She later resigned.

Murphy’s office reiterated Tuesday that both Fahl’s and Kopicki’s complaints were investigated. Alyana Alfaro, a Murphy spokeswoman, said Kopicki’s resignation letter was “appropriately referred for further action” in January 2019.

Murphy last week apologized “to those we failed” on the campaign.

Meanwhile, two former longtime Murphy allies, Liz Gilbert and Adam Alonso, were fired last month from their jobs running the host committee of this summer’s Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee after women staff members accused them of fostering a “toxic and unstable working environment."

Murphy said last week he’s cut ties with Gilbert and Alonso, saying "that’s not remotely the sort of workplace environment that we condone or that we strive for.”

But Roginsky said Murphy’s apology to those on the campaign was not specific enough. And she argued that campaign officials who have been the subject of complaints still either work for Murphy’s administration or continue to advise him.

Murphy said Tuesday he’s “apologized as a general matter to anyone who didn’t see things the way that we saw it."

“And we’ve committed to having an even stronger society, as we’re discussing today,” he added. “And certainly any campaign that we’re a part of going forward, we hope to be able set not just a New Jersey standard and record but a nationally, and if not, global record.”

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