Robyn Babcock, associate general counsel at semiconductor giant Broadcom Inc., has come a long way from a small town in Pennsylvania to her office in Irvine.
“Orange County is literally like paradise,” Babcock told the Business Journal on Nov. 19. “I still have to pinch myself that I live here, compared to where I grew up.”
Babcock helps Broadcom, one of the world’s largest chipmakers, manage the myriad employment issues of its approximately 21,000 workers across the globe.
Her role has only grown in importance over the course of the pandemic.
Babcock played an integral role in ensuring Broadcom employees could safely return to the company’s facilities, working to implement nuanced protocols in compliance with government agencies, and Broadcom’s own environmental, health, and safety policies.
She also helped the company establish the legal framework for Broadcom employees to effectively work from home during the peak of the pandemic, so the company could continue safely servicing businesses around the globe.
COVID “made employment lawyers the most popular people” in the legal industry, she quipped on Nov. 18, when she was one of five honorees at the Business Journal’s General Counsel Awards.
“The pandemic was probably good for everyone to realize just how well we can work together virtually.”
Babcock was a recipient of the Specialty Counsel Award, given to an attorney who focuses in a specific area of law for an organization.
In Babcock’s case, the specialty is employment counsel for Broadcom (Nasdaq: AVGO), the chip company co-founded in Irvine by current chairman Henry Samueli.
“I pretty much deal with all of the labor and employment issues whether it’s in the context of litigation or mergers or contracts, investigations, everything comes that comes up around any employee issues,” she said.
That includes employment litigation, employee training, counseling and discipline matters, and compliance with both U.S. and international employment laws.
Given her global role, Babcock often finds herself dealing with the intricacies of foreign labor laws in countries. Broadcom employees are scattered worldwide in places like Israel, China, Germany and Brazil in addition to the U.S. and Canada.
“When things get really difficult, we have local counsel in the jurisdictions that we rely on,” she said.
1,300 in Irvine
While Broadcom is now headquartered in San Jose following its 2016 sale to Avago Technologies, which kept the Broadcom name, Babcock works in the company’s Irvine office at the sprawling FivePoint Gateway office complex, near the Great Park.
Broadcom counted an estimated 1,300 local employees for the chipmaker as of early this year. Its OC offices are open and were largely full as of earlier this month.
Broadcom brought in $6.8 billion in revenue in the third quarter of the fiscal year. The company’s shares were trading at $553 apiece as of Nov. 22, up 26% since the start of the year to a $228 billion market cap.
If it were still headquartered here, Broadcom would be by far the most valued publicly traded company in Orange County.
Babcock a few years ago proposed an arbitration system to handle most employee disputes in the U.S. and it was adopted by the company leadership and implemented in 2018.
Babcock strongly supports arbitration, which is heard in a private forum rather than in court.
“Arbitration can be a more efficient and more reliable way of resolving disputes. Discovery is more curtailed. You can focus more on the core issues. You can get a hearing date much more quickly. You have input into who hears the dispute,” she said.
She acknowledged arbitration for employees is a “controversial topic.”
“A lot of the plaintiffs’ bar believe that it’s a way of silencing, for example, women who have complained about sexual harassment because it is a private forum as opposed to something that is heard in court,” Babcock said.
The ultimate outcome has also raised concerns.
“As a general rule, plaintiffs on average receive lower damages in arbitration cases that go to hearing and result in an award than they do in litigation cases that go to trial and result in a verdict/judgment,” according to a scholarly article in the Winter 2018 issue of the Rutgers Law Journal.
While she has been “basically the sole employment counsel for the whole company,” she says she recently received approval to hire a second employment attorney.
“I love the substance of what I do, I love where I work, I love Orange County,” said the Laguna Niguel resident and mother of two children.
Before Broadcom, Babcock was a senior counsel at Amgen Inc. and earlier an associate at law firm Sidley Austin LLP.
She likes to say she’s originally from near Scranton, site of the “The Office” TV series, “because no one otherwise would have heard of where I grew up.”
Babcock graduated with a bachelor’s degree from King’s College, “a small, Catholic liberal arts college in Pennsylvania” before heading off to the University of Pennsylvania Law School, one of the tops in the nation. She joined Broadcom in February 2013.