California DFEH Assistant Chief Counsel Accuses Governor of Interference and Resigns
13/04/2022 à 14:29
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has lost two of its top lawyers. As
reported by Bloomberg
, Chief Counsel Janette Wipper has been fired and Assistant Chief Counsel Melanie Proctor has resigned in protest, accusing California Governor Gavin Newsom of interfering in the case against Activision Blizzard.
Axios' Stephen Totilo reported that Wipper had abruptly withdrawn from the cases against Activision and Tesla last week, though at the time there was no report of the apparent conflict between the Governor's office and the DFEH until Proctor resigned. In her departing email to staff, the former assistant chief counsel highlighted increasing interference by Governor Newsom which appeared to mimic the interests of Activision's counsel, along with repeated demands for advanced notice of litigation strategy, and said that Wipper had been fired for attempting to protect the agency's independence from the Governors office.
Prior to her years with the DFEH, Wipper was Regional Director at the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) in the federal Department of Labor, where she successfully pursued a
pay and hiring discrimination case against Google
, ending in a
$3.8 million settlement last year
. According to
, advocates considered her a strong litigator unafraid to flex the departments muscles, while
detractors accused her
of attempting to publicly embarrass companies into capitulation throughout long and expensive taxpayer funded legal cases.
“California has very able, very numerous civil rights plaintiff’s lawyers who have led the nation in civil rights enforcement,” Fox said. “There’s no reason for the state to spend resources on these types of lawsuits.”
Fox said the agency’s approach seems designed to “embarrass the companies publicly,” claiming the shift to high-profile public litigation is a strategy begun under DFEH Chief Counsel Janette Wipper, who joined in 2018.
“Wipper’s style is to try and publicly embarrass companies so that they will kneel to the public derision,” Fox said. “Most state agencies leave class action cases to plaintiffs’ lawyers, but what’s different in California is Janette.”
Wipper previously was head of the Pacific region for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which oversaw a lawsuit against Oracle over pay discrimination.
“Janette is repeating a process that she applied to major Silicon Valley companies when she was at OFCCP,” Fox said. “Ultimately, it’s taxpayers who have to pay for all of this litigation, and cases like this are expensive and can go on for many years.”
Some of that criticism may seem familiar, as the DFEH was
recently scolded in court
for their very public feud with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which began after the California department
attempted to intervene
in the federal agency's
separate lawsuit against Activision Blizzard
. Between allegations of
ethical conflicts of interest
, it seemed more a contest over which agency would get the bigger win, rather than serving justice to those actually suffering discrimination.
Judge Dale S. Fischer, C.D. Cal.
“This is a bit unseemly. I feel like I should send the two of you to a mediator, never mind Activision getting involved in this.”
“You apparently have been working well together for a very long time, and you’ll have to be working well together in the future. It seems like not only the defendant, but also some of these employees and former employees are going to get caught in the middle here and that’s not appropriate.”
Wipper is currently “evaluating all avenues of legal recourse including a claim under the California Whistleblower Protection Act,” while Proctor slammed the governor’s office in her resignation email, writing that “justice should be administered equally, not favoring those with political influence.” She encouraged staff to continue working on the agency’s ongoing litigation “to the best of your abilities,” while a spokesperson for the DFEH said the department “will continue to vigorously enforce California’s civil rights and fair housing laws.”
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