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California Lawyers Sue to Void Use of Outside Firms (Correct)

Nov. 11, 2022, 1:51 AMUpdated: Nov. 15, 2022, 8:24 PM

California’s Civil Rights Department violated state contracting law when it outsourced legal services for two high-profile discrimination lawsuits, according to a complaint filed Wednesday by the union representing state-employed attorneys.

The union—California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges, and Hearing Officers in State Employment—said the Civil Rights Department improperly contracted Olivier & Schreiber LLP and Outten & Golden LLP to work on employment discrimination cases against video game companies Activision Blizzard Inc. and Riot Games when the department should have relied on its own lawyers.

Activision makes the popular World of Warcraft game.

The State Personnel Board agreed with the department’s choice to approve those contracts and reaffirmed that decision after the union’s appeal. The board erred in its decision, the union said in its complaint filed at a state court in Sacramento.

“CASE and its members have been irreparably harmed by the Board Decision as it authorizes the outsourcing of legal work that could and should be performed by CASE members, who are rank-and-file civil service attorneys employed by the State of California,” according to the complaint.

The Civil Rights Department, then known as the Department of Fair Housing and Employment, sued Riot Games in 2020 on behalf of female employees who said they faced sexual harassment, unequal pay, and other forms of gender bias. One year later, the agency went after Activision over similar allegations.

The agency hired the two firms because the civil-service lawyers faced potential conflicts of interest in each of the video game company lawsuits, according to the civil rights agency.

Lawyers with the Office of the Attorney General, which provides lawyers to the Civil Rights Department, had been representing the state’s corrections department in a lawsuit before the fair employment department at the time of the Riot Games intervention.

In the Activision case, state-employed attorneys faced a potential conflict due to their previous work with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Neither the State Personnel Board nor the two law firms could be reached for comment Thursday. Fahizah Alim, the Civil Rights Department’s deputy director of communications, said the department could comment after it has reviewed the suit.

The case is California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers in State Employment v. California State Personnel Board, Cal. Super. Ct., 34-2022-80004047, 11/9/22.

(Corrected in sixth paragraph of story published Nov. 10, 2022, to state that the Department of Fair Housing and Employment sued Activision one year after intervening in the Riot Games lawsuit, not three. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Sacramento, Calif. at tstecker@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com