Lawyer dispute could benefit Activision Blizzard in harassment lawsuit


Enlarge / Activision offices in Los Angeles.

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In a new legal case, Activision Blizzard reports suspected conflicts of interest within the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) in an attempt to delay or thwart the state agency’s ongoing lawsuit for alleged discrimination and sexual harassment in the company.

Conflict claims

Those who have followed the California case against Activision since its first publication in July may recall that the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a similar but separate lawsuit against the company last month. Activision Blizzard quickly accepted a consent decree to settle this federal matter, creating an $ 18 million restitution fund for affected employees.

Earlier this month, however, the California DFEH filed an objection to this federal regulation, say in part that it had a “potentially detrimental impact on the state of California’s ongoing enforcement of [the Fair Employment and Housing Act]The settlement, California argued, could cause “irreparable harm” to the DFEH case and “may result in the waiver of state claims regarding the pending DFEH case and the destruction or tampering with necessary evidence. to the DFEH case. “

The EEOC responded almost immediately, alleging in its own file that two DFEH lawyers who “play a leadership role within the [DFEH]”Previously worked for the EEOC and” helped lead the EEOC’s investigation… against Activision Blizzard.

“For this reason, the request for intervention should be dismissed and lawyers for the DFEH should be prevented from providing work product or advising new lawyers in these intervention proceedings,” wrote the EEOC.

Blizzard sees an opening

Now Blizzard is trying to take advantage of this alleged conflict of interest to delay the state’s trial against it and potentially disqualify many of the DFEH lawyers involved. In a new case, the company asks the court to stay the proceedings in the case to give it time to make a legal discovery and see if there is “disqualification or other remedies.”

Beyond the two lawyers accused of a direct conflict of interest, Activision Blizzard also argues that “violation of these rules could result in disqualification … Professional conduct. Activision Blizzard also alleges another possible violation of the rules by DFEH lawyers who improperly contacted Activision Blizzard employees to urge them not to hire a private lawyer.

“If ethical breaches did occur, then allowing the lawyers at the center of the breach to continue to pursue the case against Activision Blizzard would continue to cause irreparable harm, both to Activision Blizzard and to the ability of the DFEH to pursue this case. “the company said. writing. The conflict “could raise serious questions about the underlying DFEH investigation,” the file continues, adding that “the integrity of the DFEH investigation itself – not just the continuation of the ongoing action – could be called into question “.

This new legal drama may seem like a technicality without too much impact on the discrimination and harassment complaints at the heart of the matter. Still, the result could be to Activision Blizzard’s advantage, weakening or at least delaying the case the state had built against him.

“This is a pretty huge thing, and if it were true it would call into question a lot of the DFEH process,” said Richard Hoeg, Michigan attorney and host of Virtual Legality. wrote on Twitter following initial allegations of conflict by the EEOC. “It might even provide Activision with its own defense against the original lawsuit.”

Meanwhile, Activision Blizzard Executive Vice President for Corporate Affairs, Fran Townsend, issued a letter to employees revealing that “more than 20 people have left Activision Blizzard and more than 20 people have been subject other types of disciplinary action “as a result of the company’s internal malpractice investigations. . Townsend also notes “an increase in reports [of misconduct] through various reporting channels “over the past few months and as the company” prepares to triple its investment in training resources “so employees know what to watch out for. Nineteen people are now working full time within the company’s ethics and compliance team.

Activision Blizzard has approximately 9,500 employees, according to a 2020 SEC filing.

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