Two top lawyers are no longer involved in the case.
Last July, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. The suit, the result of two years of investigation, paints a picture of a toxic working environment and a “frat boy” culture at the mega publisher. The suit is ongoing, but a new report from Bloomberg alleges some high-level interference from California Governor Gavin Newsom.
This week, Janette Wipper, chief counsel at the DFEH, was fired by Newsom. Following this, Wipper’s assistant Melanie Proctor resigned in protest, according to Bloomberg’s report. Previously, both lawyers had already removed themselves from involvement in the lawsuit. In a resignation email, Proctor inferred that Newsom had begun to interfere with the DFEH’s suit against Activision Blizzard, which is headquartered in Santa Monica, California.
Following the removal of both Wipper and Proctor from the DFEH, the fate of the department’s case against Activision Blizzard is in flux. Currently, the suit is pending in the Los Angeles Superior Court.
If Newsom is indeed meddling in the proceedings, the legal ramifications could be enormous. Proctor’s email alleges that the governor’s office was demanding “advance notice of litigation strategy and of next steps.” As such, it’s not a stretch to imagine Newsom’s office was hoping to prepare to defend Activision Blizzard, a multibillion dollar company headquartered in the state of California.
According to business attorney Richard Hoeg, the implications of potential interference by the governor’s office are many. For one, it casts a pall over the state government’s handling of cases of this nature.
“My initial thought is that this is absolutely wild and an additional black mark on how California on the whole is operating here after their failed attempt to block the EEOC’s settlement,” Hoeg told GameDaily.
Regarding the legality of any alleged interference by Newsom’s office, Hoeg noted--with the caveat that he practices law in Michigan, not California--that generally, state governors have the right to control how the executive branch of government operates.
“In general, a department/agency of a state government is going to fall broadly under the control of the executive branch which, of course, is headed by the governor,” Hoeg explained.
Why Newsom would want to potentially interfere in the DFEH’s suit is a big question, and Hoeg said he hopes the governor’s office found fault with how the suit was being handled rather than having any business interest in the outcome; Activision Blizzard no doubt contributes a great deal to the California economy, after all.
“As a lawyer that respects legal process, my sincere hope is that there are legitimate concerns that the governor’s office had with strategy and direction, and that this wasn’t a move designed specifically to protect a company headquartered in the state,” Hoeg said.
For the last couple years, the headlines surrounding Activision Blizzard have been a whirlwind combination of sexual harassment allegations, strikes, and demands for leadership to step down, culminating in a massive acquisition by Microsoft in January. Eyes will no doubt be on the company moving forward as more details emerge regarding the involvement of the California governor’s office.
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