Department of Water Resources Facing Multiple Lawsuits in Oroville Dam Crisis, Including Racism and Sexism Allegations

SACRAMENTO -- It's been two years since the crisis at the Oroville Dam forced nearly 200,000 people to evacuate.

Now, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) is facing multiple lawsuits for its role in the spillway emergency.

A hearing was held on Friday to consider whether some salacious details in the lawsuit should be included. Things like sexism, racism and theft.

The DWR wants those allegations taken out of the lawsuit, calling them "irrelevant" and based on assumption.

But lawyers for the city of Oroville, local businesses and individuals affected by the spillway emergency are fighting back.

Even now, people like Kyle Lang are still feeling the effects of the Oroville Dam crisis.

"We lost just over 200 acres," he said. "We lost our biggest cash cow."

Lang, a walnut farmer, estimates nearly $40 million in lost income.

He is part of a lawsuit which blames the emergency on the DWR for failing to properly maintain the nation's tallest dam.

"We would be able to survive and continue farming," Lang stated.

The lawsuit also accuses the DWR of having a culture of disfunction.

"There was an old boys' network there, an organization that was rampant with racism and sexism and theft and safety was put in the back seat," said Niall McCarthy.

A lawsuit alleges a noose was found in a Department of Water Resource meeting room.

Attorney Niall McCarthy is representing farmers like Land, along with the city of Oroville and other business owners.

The lawsuit argues the workplace environment contributed to the issues at the spillway.

"There was a noose that was hung [and] left up for several months to intimidate an African-American employee. No one at DWR took it down," McCarthy explained.

In court, the DWR fought to get those accusations removed from the lawsuit.

According to court documents, state lawyers for the DWR say, in part:

"The only reason plaintiffs insist on making these scandalous claims is to vilify DWR in the press and taint the jury pool. This sideshow should be stopped now, or else it will continue to interfere with the just and efficient resolution of this case."

Lang believes the accusations are relevant saying, “it really just shows the culture of the agency."

Ultimately it will be up to a judge to decide whether the allegations in question are included in the lawsuit.

The judge did not make a ruling today, it’s expected in the coming weeks.

FOX40 reached out to the DWR, a spokesperson said they would not comment until the judge makes a ruling.

The trial for all of the cases against the DWR is expected to start in June of 2020.

If you’d like to research the court documents yourself, the case number is JCCP 4974, searchable on the Sacramento County Superior Court website under the “any format” option.

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