One of the top lawyers leading the state of California’s discrimination lawsuit against Activison Blizzard has resigned in protest, following the firing of his boss by California Governor Gavin Newsom.
As reported by Bloomberg, Melanie Proctor, who served as Deputy Chief Counsel for the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), is leaving her post in protest of the March 29 firing of Chief Counsel Janette Wipper. , with whom she worked. the Activision Blizzard lawsuit which 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.
In an email to staff, Proctor said Newsom’s office began interfering with the trial and that “as we continue to win in state court, this interference increases, mimicking the interests of the Activision lawyer. According to Proctor, Wipper protested this interference and tried to protect the agency’s independence before being “abruptly terminated”.
Alexis Ronickher, a spokesperson for Wipper, told Bloomberg that Wipper is “evaluating all legal remedies, including a claim under the California Whistleblower Protection Act.” According to a statement from Ronickher (via Kotaku), Wipper was reappointed by Newsom just four months before her firing, a move celebrated by current DFEH director Kevin Kish.
“Ms. Wipper and Ms. Proctor encourage DFEH to continue its independent and fair enforcement of California’s civil rights laws,” the statement read. “For there to be justice, those with political influence must be held to the same set of laws and rules.”
Erin Mellon, Governor Newsom’s director of communications, said in a statement to Game Developer that “the allegations of interference by our office are categorically false.”
“The Newsom Administration supports the effective work DFEH has done under Director Kevin Kish to uphold civil rights laws and protect workers, and will continue to support DFEH in its efforts to combat all forms discrimination and protect Californians.”
Where all of this leaves the DFEH lawsuit is currently unclear. The department recently sought to block an $18 million settlement between the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Activision Blizzard, arguing that such a settlement could harm the DFEH’s ability to pursue further damage. This regulation was recently approved. Activision Blizzard sought last year to have DFEH’s lawsuit stayed in court, citing a conflict of interest in that two DFEH attorneys working on the State of California case also contributed to the lawsuit. the EEOC, which Activision Blizzard said called into question the entirety of the lawsuit and its underlying investigation. Activision Blizzard’s efforts to stop the DFEH case have so far been rejected by the courts.
Following the DFEH lawsuit, Activision Blizzard was hit with numerous other lawsuits and investigations, as well as multiple employee walkouts, strikes, unionization attempts, and a decline in stock values that ultimately led Microsoft to agree to buy the company for $69 billion.
In addition to its ongoing case against Activision Blizzard, the DFEH also played a key role in improving the settlement in a recent sex discrimination lawsuit against Riot Games. Originally, Riot had agreed to settle for $10 million, but the DFEH intervened, blocking the deal in court and arguing that the victims should be entitled to more money. Riot eventually agreed to settle the lawsuit for $100 million.