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The Oregon Department of Justice has hired a law firm to investigate allegations of discrimination and mismanagement at the state's economic development agency, Business Oregon.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that in an anonymous letter to Gov. Kate Brown earlier this month, a group of employees described hostile working conditions and accused leadership of gender bias and misusing taxpayer funds. The letter asked the governor to undertake an investigation and said the employees had retained Portland labor attorney Dana Sullivan "to help ensure employment rights are protected as a result of this complaint."

The Justice Department will be supervising the probe. Its agreement with the Portland office of Perkins Coie provides for a maximum cost of $50,000. The budget could go quickly, as the firm's partners command $525 to $630 an hour, and paralegals and associates bill out at $150 to $445 an hour.

The agreement specifically directs Perkins Coie to undertake "an attorney-client privileged investigation," meaning the Justice Department or Business Oregon could try to exempt the findings from disclosure under public records law. It also says the law firm could be called on to provide legal advice to the DOJ, the governor's office or the "benefitting agency" - Business Oregon.

The Justice department did not respond to questions about the agreement, whether it would make the findings public or whether that decision would be made by Business Oregon.

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