State settles suit with Katie Brennan, agrees to implement reforms, make $600K donation to charity aiding victims of sexual assault

The state of New Jersey and Katie Brennan announced Friday a settlement in the case of Katherine Brennan v. Albert J. Alvarez, et al. that includes new policies and a large contribution to a charity that works with survivors of sexual assault.

According a release from the state, New Jersey will implement key survivor-centric policy reforms, including allowing state employees who are alleged victims of discrimination, harassment or retaliation to have an adviser or support person accompany the alleged victim when he or she is interviewed by an Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action investigator.

In addition, $600,000 will be paid, in full, to a charity designated by Brennan to improve the health and welfare of survivors of sexual assault. In settling the matter, the parties have made no admission of wrongdoing or liability with respect to the various claims among them, the release said.

Brennan, a former campaign volunteer whose rape allegations against Alvarez led to outrage and legislative hearings, told NJ Advance Media that she will direct the $600,000 to the Waterfront Project, a nonprofit group in Hudson County.

Gov. Phil Murphy, speaking at his daily COVID-19 briefing Friday, gave the following statement:

“I think it’s a fair and reasonable settlement,” he said. “We’ve worked collaboratively and instructively with Katie and her team to institute meaningful reform to support survivors in the workplace. We look forward to continuing our work on these issues to make New Jersey a leading state for survivor-centric policies, as we have been doing for a long time.”

The following statement was attributed to Brennan in the release:

“Speaking out gave me strength. My position allowed me to advocate on behalf of myself and other survivors. This $600,000 fund will allow low-income survivors in Hudson County to seek justice, who may not otherwise be able.

“We have made great progress through awareness, legislation and the reforms in this agreement. This is just the beginning. Victims, perpetrators, all of us — we are all accountable for ending sexual violence. There cannot be any bystanders.”

Brennan’s attorney, Katy McClure of Smith Eibeler, said the following:

“This case — and this resolution — should serve as a beacon of hope to other survivors, to those who are thinking about coming forward, to those who have been afraid to come forward and to those who have come forward and not received justice. It is rare in civil litigation to achieve significant policy reforms, but it has always been Katie Brennan’s intention to create change.

“New Jersey is a stronger, better place for survivors — and will continue to improve — thanks to Katie’s commitment to change, including establishing a fund to improve the health and welfare of victims of sexual assault.”

The state’s attorney, John Lacey of Connell Foley LLP, said the following:

“This is a fair and reasonable settlement. The state of New Jersey was pleased to resolve this civil litigation with Ms. Brennan and work collaboratively and constructively with her and her counsel to institute meaningful long-term policy reforms to support survivors in the workplace.”

Under the settlement, the New Jersey Division of Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action in the New Jersey Civil Service Commission will now allow an alleged victim of discrimination, harassment or retaliation to be accompanied by an adviser or support person during an interview by an EEO/AA investigator.

The state of New Jersey has also agreed to give Brennan an opportunity to make a presentation about additional proposed policy reforms to the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Council, established by the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General.

Brennan and Alvarez have agreed to participate in a Restorative Justice process. Alvarez also has agreed to attend an anti-sexual harassment class.

The settlement includes payment to Brennan’s attorneys of $400,000 for legal fees. The state will pay $800,000 toward the settlement and Murphy for Governor Inc.’s insurer will pay $200,000. The state will also pay the civil case’s mediator fees, which total approximately $20,000.

Under the final settlement agreement, all parties have agreed to dismiss their claims, counterclaims and cross-claims with prejudice and have further agreed that there will be no further litigation among these parties or family members, affiliates, agencies or authorities.

The lawsuit was pending in state Superior Court in Mercer County.