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Democrats Want Probe Into Transfer of DOL’s Oracle Lawyer (1)

Aug. 24, 2020, 9:26 PM; Updated: Aug. 24, 2020, 11:27 PM

Two Democratic members of Congress called for an investigation into whether Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia retaliated against a top agency attorney for speaking out internally and accusing him of allegedly interfering with a high-profile pay discrimination lawsuit against Oracle Corp.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) called on the Department of Labor’s acting inspector general, Larry D. Turner, to “investigate reports of political inference by Secretary Scalia and Department political appointees into the Department’s litigation against Oracle” to determine whether a reassignment of the agency’s top lawyer on the West Coast, Janet Herold, amounts to “inappropriate retaliation.”

Herold has sued a number of prominent Silicon Valley technology companies, including Oracle, on behalf of the Labor Department, gaining attention as an aggressive litigator focused on workers’ rights. The agency told her in late July that she would be involuntarily transferred to lead the Chicago office of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a move she called retaliation for objecting to Scalia’s alleged involvement in the Oracle litigation.

Herold filed a whistleblower complaint with the Office of Special Counsel after learning of the reassignment. The DOL Office of Inspector General declined to comment Monday on whether it has initiated an investigation.

Herold’s attorneys previously said she’d objected to Scalia’s involvement on “numerous occasions” prior to her reassignment. The DOL website suggests Herold has yet to start in her new role.

“The Secretary’s efforts to involuntarily transfer Ms. Herold appear to be retaliation against an employee simply doing her job to enforce the law and uphold the Department’s mission to protect workers,” Murray and DeLauro wrote in the letter, dated Aug. 21. “Further, the reassignment would be personally disruptive for Ms. Herold who would be forced to relocate from San Francisco to Chicago in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.”

The Labor Department previously denied any communication between Scalia and Oracle or its attorneys about the litigation, while calling it “entirely proper” for him to take an interest in the case.

Concerns About ‘Capacity’

Murray, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and DeLauro, chair of a House Appropriations subcommittee focused on labor issues, pointed out that Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison is an ally of President Donald Trump. He hosted a fundraiser for the president’s reelection campaign earlier this year.

“This purportedly planned retaliatory action appears particularly unscrupulous in light of Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison’s fundraising efforts for President Trump’s political campaign and Oracle CEO Safra Catz’s role on President Trump’s transition team,” the lawmakers said.

Their letter also asked Turner to review how Herold’s transfer could “exacerbate” the department’s concerns about the Office of the Solicitor’s bandwidth in the coming fiscal year.

Murray and DeLauro noted that DOL asked for a $5.9 million funding increase for the office in fiscal 2021 to help pay for an additional 28 full-time equivalent employees, telling Congress that its ability to provide legal support would be “substantially diminished” without more resources.

“It is very difficult to square the Secretary’s planned reassignment of a senior SOL litigator—who has decades of relevant litigation experience and has ably led the San Francisco Regional Solicitor’s Office since 2012—with the Department’s extensive concerns about SOL capacity,” the lawmakers added.

(Updated with additional reporting.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Paige Smith in Washington at psmith@bloomberglaw.com; Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com; John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com; Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com

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