California governor has been interfering in Activision Blizzard lawsuit

The state of California case against Activision Blizzard just took another blow. A report in Bloomberg alleges that the office of California Governor Gavin Newsom tried to “interfere” in the lawsuit between the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing and Activision Blizzard for sexual harassment and discrimination. When the trial’s lead attorney, Janette Wipper, tried to maintain the department’s autonomy, she was reportedly fired by Newsom, prompting the DFEH’s assistant chief attorney Melanie Proctor to resign in protest.

According to the Bloomberg report, Proctor sent an email to staff saying, “The governor’s office repeatedly demanded advance notice of the lawsuit strategy and of the next steps in the process. As we continued to win in state court, this interference increased. mimicking the interests of Activision’s counsel.”

“Claims of interference by our office are categorically false,” Governor Newsom’s communications director Erin Mellon said in a statement to Custom Hour. “The Newsom administration supports the effective work DFEH has done under Director Kevin Kish to enforce civil rights laws and protect workers, and will continue to support DFEH in their efforts to fight all forms of discrimination and protect Californians.” We asked if Newsom was firing Wipper, but Mellon said she can’t comment on human resources.

Activision Blizzard recently settled with the EEOC for $18 million in victim compensation. The DFEH tried to block that settlement, claiming it would give Activision Blizzard the ability to destroy evidence or exempt the company from the state’s claims. After attempting to suspend the settlement, a judge in California ultimately denied the DFEH’s requests, paving the way for the settlement’s approval in late March.

The $18 million settlement was criticized for being a drop in the ocean for the multi-billion dollar company. Riot Games, a similar billion-dollar video game publisher, recently settled its own harassment lawsuit for $100 million. High-profile attorney Lisa Bloom, who has filed her own case against the company, held a news conference in December, saying, “Given that there are hundreds of victims, I think we can all agree that the $ 18 million is woefully inadequate.”

While the DFEH’s attempts to block the settlement were not motivated by the size of the settlement (or the relative lack thereof), it appeared to want to pursue harsher penalties than the EEOC had suggested. Now that the DFEH’s top two lawyers have left, reportedly at the behest of the Governor of California, it appears that political forces (which could have a vested interest in Activision’s board or even Microsoft’s) have decided that Activision Blizzard has duly reconciled. In an email to Custom Hour, Fahizah Alim, DFEH’s deputy communications director, said: “DFEH does not comment on human resources. DFEH will continue to vigorously enforce California civil rights and fair housing laws.”

Update April 13, 3:44 PM ET: A spokesman for Governor Newsom’s office declined to comment on the circumstances of Wipper’s resignation.

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