Sign up for our free newsletter
Free Oakland news, written by Oaklanders, delivered straight to your inbox three times a week.
Rob Schwartz went to law school with the goal of becoming an attorney who would make a positive impact in the world. To his satisfaction, Schwartz has been able to fulfill that ambition as a partner at Oakland-based Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer, where today he focuses largely on cases involving people who have been treated unjustly by an employer or physically injured, often as a result of negligence.
“It is nice to be an advocate for someone who was treated unfairly,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz recently got a note of thanks from a former El Cerrito Police officer who was forced out of her job as a result of sexual harassment.
The woman, who was once named officer-of-the-year, suffered terribly and gave up her career in law enforcement. Getting the substantial settlement that Schwartz was able to wrest from the city positively altered the trajectory of her life, the woman said.
Her thank you note, “was very gratifying,” Schwartz said. He hopes such settlements also benefit society generally by prompting government agencies and companies to change for the better.
Schwartz graduated from the University of Michigan, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English with honors. In law school, at the University of Oregon, Schwartz was fascinated by public-interest law, centered on environmental issues and civil rights.
Years of work around Livermore labs
After school, Schwartz spent a couple of years working as a staff attorney for Tri-Valley CAREs, a Livermore-based nonprofit aimed at stopping the development of nuclear weapons at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and elsewhere. In that role, Schwartz did a lot of work filing Freedom of Information Act requests seeking documents about lab pollution that was contaminating nearby neighborhoods.
As it happened, Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer was leading a huge wrongful termination lawsuit involving 130 ex-Lawrence Livermore employees, and Schwartz began helping the firm with the case in 2009.
Schwartz joined the law firm in 2011 and continued to work on the suit, which alleged the workers were wrongfully terminated after the privatization of lab operations by a joint venture between Bechtel Corp. and the University of California. It took more than seven years of litigation and two one-month jury trials before a $37.25 million settlement was reached in 2015.
“That was an epic struggle for us that dragged on a very long time. There were bleak moments along the way, but we stuck with it,” Schwartz said. “It exceeded all of our expectations. We were able to get substantial settlements for every single plaintiff.”
Also in 2015, Schwartz became a partner at Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer, where he had found a home.
“I feel like we’re all family. We know each other well. We enjoy spending time together,” Schwartz said. Like a couple of his partners, Schwartz plays music — he tackles drums, guitar, and piano — and occasionally jams in an office band. Outside of the office, Schwartz enjoys spending time with his 7-year-old daughter and getting outdoors.
Schwartz likes the fact that the firm operates 100 percent on a contingency fee basis — meaning it gets paid only if there is a settlement or award — and takes cases only when it believes in the plaintiff’s cause. Once the partners have committed to a plaintiff, they won’t back down, he said.
“We fight like hell and we don’t give up, ever,” Schwartz said proudly.
Currently, Schwartz has another massive employment case involving 79 former Farmers Insurance agents who claim they were terminated because of age discrimination. The former agents say that Farmers took the businesses they built over decades and gave them to younger agents in order to save on commissions. Such plaintiffs are typically feeling isolated and vulnerable when they come to Schwartz, and he gets real satisfaction knowing he can help them in their time of need.
“My hope is that by representing our clients we are making incremental changes that make society a better place.”Rob Schwartz
One case that recently settled with Stanford Medical Care resulted in a large award to pay for the continuing care of a boy born with cystic fibrosis, after a doctor misdiagnosed the potential for the condition during pregnancy.
“We got a settlement that provided care for the rest of his life,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz also likes taking whistleblower cases in which somebody has tried to speak out about something wrong. He has represented several pharmaceutical employees who were fired after raising concerns about unsafe drug development.
In numerous ways, Schwartz sees his current job as a continuation of the advocacy work he previously pursued because the cases he represents often reflect problems that are systemic — like overconcentration of power in corporations, or the government not looking out for citizens.
“My hope is that by representing our clients we are making incremental changes that make society a better place,” he said.