(PoliticalLookout.com)- A health official in New Jersey has filed a lawsuit saying he was terminated from his position because he refused to administer coronavirus tests to family members of a top aide to Democratic Governor Phil Murphy.
The assistant commissioner for the state Division of Public Health, Christopher Neuwirth, claims he was fired for not giving the tests to the family of George Helmy, who is Murphy’s chief of staff.
According to the lawsuit, Neuwirth said the state police superintendent, Patrick Callahan, told him that Helmy “needs a favor,” requesting him to go to Helmy’s family home and give coronavirus tests to his relatives. At the time of this request, New Jersey wasn’t administering tests to anyone who wanted them, because they were in short supply.
Following that request, Neuwirth sent an email to the chief of staff of the health commissioner to warn her about the “favor.” The email that he sent read:
“Clearly, we cannot say no, or advise them that this test doesn’t matter, and it’s a complete waste of an [assistant commissioner’s] time to spend literally 6-hours collecting one specimen. I’m sharing this with you simply for documentation and, in case, this continues to spiral out of control.”
Neuwirth was also assured that this was a “textbook ethics violation,” according to a member of the health division’s Office of Legal and Regulatory Compliance.
He was fired roughly one month after the “favor” was requested, he said, for apparently failing to disclose that he also worked for a private firm. That being said, NJ Advance Media reported a recording shows the state’s public health commissioner, Judith Persichilli, said he was fired because Murphy’s office believed he was leaking confidential information to the press.
As Neuwirth said:
“Because I pursued an ethics complaint, I was fired. It’s clear that accusing me of wrongdoing and leaking information to the media was a convenient cover story for pursuing an ethics complaint, in addition to the administration lying and mischaracterizing my external employment and workplace performance.
“I am confident that once all of the facts surrounding my termination have come to light, it will be clear that I never behaved unethically and was terminated for doing what any public servant should be expected to do.”
In addition, Neuwirth directly denied that he leaked any confidential information. He also said work he did outside his job with the state was mischaracterized.
One of Murphy’s spokesman categorized Neuwirth’s lawsuit as a “meritless complaint,” and the governor “look[ed] forward to putting forth a vigorous defense.”
Murphy didn’t directly comment on Neuwirth’s claim about the “favor,” but he did give a little explanation on the termination when pressed by the media. He said:
“I’ve got no comment on Chris’ situation. But I will say this, that folks are not — it’s part for the course that you’re not supposed to have another source of income. That’s just as a general matter.”
Murphy did, however, give praise to the people on his side that were allegedly involved in this situation.