Christopher Neuwirth seeks reinstatement of position as Assistant Commissioner
HOLMDEL, NEW JERSEY (June 16, 2020)–Former Assistant Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health’s Division of Public Health, Infrastructure, Laboratories and Emergency Preparedness, Christopher Neuwirth, who was terminated on May 28, 2020, has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit today in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer County against the State of New Jersey.
The lawsuit alleges that the State of New Jersey terminated Mr. Neuwirth in retaliation for lodging a complaint to the State Ethics Commission concerning the conduct of two high ranking members of Governor Murphy’s administration, Acting Superintendent Colonel Patrick J. Callahan and Governor Murphy’s Chief of Staff, George Helmy. According to the Complaint, Callahan pressured Mr. Neuwirth to collect specimens of relatives of Mr. Helmy at their private residence for COVID-19 testing. When Mr. Neuwirth lodged an ethics complaint for this instruction, the Ethics Liaison officer refused to process the complaint and implicitly threatened Mr. Neuwirth with criminal ramifications if he proceeded. DOH leadership then began to ostracize Mr. Neuwirth by excluding him from important COVID-19 response meetings, essentially stripping him of all decision-making duties and responsibilities, culminating in his termination on May 28, 2020.
“Serving as the Assistant Commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Health, and as the state’s initial incident commander for the pandemic response, are two highlights of my professional career,” said Neuwirth. “My focus was always on how to best serve our state and I am tremendously proud of the work my team and I accomplished, especially during the pandemic. To be retaliated against for doing exactly what state employees are instructed to do in their annual ethics training is simply incomprehensible. It’s hard for me to understand why my closest, trusted colleagues within DOH leadership, including the Commissioner and Chief of Staff, would treat me in such a callous and malicious manner — without ever once speaking to me about their concerns.”
After the termination, Mr. Neuwirth quickly became the subject of several media reports, citing “anonymous” sources, that listed a multitude of reasons for his termination, including low attendance, poor performance and undisclosed outside employment with the consulting firm Margolis Healy and Associates, LLC. When asked about Mr. Neuwirth’s termination, Governor Murphy perpetuated this particular falsehood, stating, “Folks are not – it’s par for the course that you’re not supposed to have another source of income…”
Yesterday, it was reported that Mr. Neuwirth was terminated because the Murphy administration believed he was leaking confidential information to the media about the state’s response to COVID-19. Mr. Neuwirth has vigorously disputed each of these alleged reasons for his termination, which he claims in the lawsuit are false and defamatory.
“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,” said Mr. Neuwirth. “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.”
Mr. Neuwirth is represented by Smith Eibeler, LLC of Holmdel, New Jersey. “Employees should never be terminated for complaining about governmental waste and abuse of power,” said attorney Christopher Eibeler. “The State has insinuated, in press statements and to various media outlets, that Mr. Neuwirth omitted to tell the State of his outside business activities, which could not be further from the truth. Mr. Neuwirth is a dedicated public servant, who was wrongfully terminated for rightfully speaking out against unethical governmental conduct.”