Activision using Wilmer probe to obfuscate ‘frat culture’ case - agency

3 minute read

The entrance to the Activision Blizzard Inc. campus is shown in Irvine, California, U.S., August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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(Reuters) - California's anti-discrimination agency has accused Activision Blizzard Inc of suppressing evidence of sexual harassment and bias against female workers and using an internal probe conducted by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr to interfere with the state's investigation of its employment practices.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed an amended complaint against Activision in state court on Monday claiming the leading videogame developer is directing employees to bring issues to Wilmer Hale lawyers, and then claiming that information is privileged and refusing to turn it over.

"This directly interferes with DFEH’s statutory mandate to investigate, prosecute, and remedy workplace discrimination and harassment violations on behalf of employees and contingent or temporary workers who engaged in, or were perceived to be engaged in, protective activity," agency lawyers wrote.

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Santa Monica-based Activision in a statement provided by a spokesperson said the company has complied with "every proper request" made by DFEH.

"We have provided the DFEH with clear evidence that we do not have gender pay or promotion disparities," the company said. "Our senior leadership is increasingly diverse, with a growing number of women in key leadership roles across the company."

A representative of Wilmer Hale did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Activision owns a number of massively popular videogame franchises including Call of Duty, Overwatch and World of Warcraft.

DFEH sued the company in July, claiming it routinely underpays and fails to promote female employees and has condoned "constant sexual harassment."

The lawsuit alleges that male employees at the company engaged in events called “cube crawls” in which they would get drunk and harass female employees. One female employee allegedly died by suicide due to pressure from a superior, whom she had been sexually involved with, during a business trip.

J. Allen Brack stepped down from his role as president of Activision Blizzard two weeks after the lawsuit was filed. The DFEH alleged that Brack and other senior managers at Activision were aware of the company's "frat boy" culture and took no steps to change it.

In a statement issued after the lawsuit was filed, Activision claimed the DFEH's claims were inaccurate and accused DFEH of "disgraceful and unprofessional" conduct in the course of its investigation.

But in Monday's amended complaint, the agency said it was Activision that was preventing DFEH from doing its job.

Upon retaining Wilmer Hale, DFEH said, Activision encouraged employees to report violations of company policies or any incidents that made workers "uncomfortable" to an unidentified Wilmer Hale attorney.

In turn, Activision has refused the agency's requests for documents and communications pertaining to complaints made by workers and any investigation into those complaints, according to Monday's filing.

DFEH said the company has violated a state law providing that individuals shall not “willfully resist, prevent, impede, or interfere” with the department's performance of its duties.

The agency also said any waivers or releases signed by Activision employees in the course of the internal investigation should be declared unenforceable.

The case is Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. Activision Blizzard Inc, California Superior Court, Los Angeles County, No. 21STCV26571.

For Department of Fair Employment and Housing: Rumduol Vuong

For Activision: Not available

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.