California Governor's Office Accused Of Interfering With Activision Blizzard Lawsuit

The state of California's lawsuit against Activision Blizzard continues to be tumultuous.

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One of the top lawyers handling the state of California's discrimination lawsuit against Activison Blizzard has resigned in protest, following the firing of her boss by California Governor Gavin Newsom.

As reported by Bloomberg, Melanie Proctor, who served as assistant chief counsel for California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), is stepping down from her position to protest the March 29 firing of Chief Counsel Janette Wipper, who she was working alongside on the Activision Blizzard lawsuit that has accused the company behind major franchises like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft of fostering a "frat boy culture" of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Proctor in an email to staff said that Newsom's office began to interfere with the lawsuit, and that "as we continued to win in state court, this interference increased, mimicking the interests of Activision's counsel." According to Proctor, Wipper protested this interference and attempted to protect the agency's independence before being "abruptly terminated."

Alexis Ronickher, a spokesperson for Wipper, told Bloomberg that Wipper is "evaluating all avenues of legal recourse including a claim under the California Whistleblower Protection Act." According to a statement from Ronickher (via Kotaku), Wipper was reappointed to her position by Newsom just four months before her termination, a move celebrated by current DFEH director Kevin Kish.

"Both Ms. Wipper and Ms. Proctor encourage DFEH to continue its independent and fair enforcement of California's civil rights laws," the statement reads. "For there to be justice, those with political influence must be forced to play by the same set of laws and rules."

Erin Mellon, communications director for Governor Newsom, said in a statement to Game Developer that "claims of interference by our office are categorically false."

"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."

Where all this leaves the DFEH lawsuit is currently unclear. The department recently sought to block a $18 million settlement between the Federal Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Activision Blizzard, arguing that such a settlement could hurt the DFEH's ability to pursue further damages. That settlement was recently approved. Activision Blizzard sought last year to have the DFEH's lawsuit halted in court, citing a conflict of interest in that two DFEH lawyers working on the state of California's case also contributed to the EEOC's lawsuit, which in Activision Blizzard's eyes called into question the entirety of the lawsuit and its underlying investigation. Efforts by Activision Blizzard to halt the DFEH's case have thus far been rejected in court.

In the wake of the DFEH's lawsuit, Activision Blizzard has been hit by numerous other lawsuits and investigations, as well as multiple employee walkouts, strikes, attempts to unionize, and a drop in stock value that ultimately resulted in Microsoft agreeing to buy the company for $69 billion.

Aside from its ongoing case against Activision Blizzard, the DFEH also played a key role in upping the settlement in a recent gender discrimination lawsuit against Riot Games. Originally, Riot agreed to settle for $10 million, but the DFEH intervened, blocking the agreement in court and arguing that victims should be entitled to more money. Riot eventually agreed to settle the lawsuit to the tune of $100 million.

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