Blizzard loses top lawyer as federal regulators probe video game giant

3 minute read

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

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  • CLO Claire Hart did not leave due to SEC probe -spokesperson
  • Video game company is under fire for workplace practices
  • Those practices include allegations of sexual harassment

(Reuters) - The chief lawyer for Blizzard Entertainment Inc has left the video game maker as it and parent company Activision Blizzard Inc face harsh scrutiny over their workplace practices, including allegations of sex discrimination and sexual harassment.

Blizzard chief legal officer Claire Hart, a 10-year veteran of Alphabet Inc's Google and a former Weil, Gotshal & Manges associate, announced in a LinkedIn post on Monday that she left the company on Friday. Hart joined the game developer and publisher in 2018, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Posting a picture of herself outside the developer's Irvine, California offices, Hart wrote she was "taking a short break before making my next move."

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"The past three years have been full of unexpected twists and turns, but I feel honored to have worked with and met so many great people at Blizzard and across the Activision Blizzard businesses," she wrote.

Hart did not respond to a request for comment. Her post came the same day Activision Blizzard said that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating its disclosures regarding employment matters and related issues.

Andrew Reynolds, a spokesperson for Blizzard, said Hart did not leave due to the SEC investigation.

With Hart gone, Reynolds said Blizzard's legal team in Irvine is being led by Terri Durham, senior vice president and general counsel for Activision Blizzard.

The video game publisher on Tuesday said it was cooperating with regulators.

"There is absolutely no place anywhere in our company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind," Activision Chief Executive Bobby Kotick said in a statement.

Activision Blizzard, which produces and publishes the Call of Duty, Candy Crush and World of WarCraft series, has been under fire since July, when California's anti-discrimination agency sued, alleging that male employees engaged in events called "cube crawls," in which they would get drunk and harass female employees.

The lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing also alleged that a female employee died by suicide during a business trip due to pressure from a superior, whom she had been sexually involved with.

Activision Blizzard initially blasted the DFEH's claims as inaccurate and accused the agency of engaging "disgraceful and unprofessional" conduct in its investigation.

However, Kotick later appeared to walk back the statement, calling the company's initial responses "tone deaf" in a letter to the company's employees, according to press reports.

Since then, the California agency has amended its complaint to accuse Activision Blizzard of suppressing evidence of sexual harassment and bias 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 agency alleged in August that Activision Blizzard directed employees to bring issues to WilmerHale lawyers, and then claim that information is privileged and refuse to turn it over. In response to those allegations, Activision said it has complied with "every proper request" made by DFEH.

Blizzard is a renowned video game shop. In addition to producing and publishing the World of WarCraft series and its related titles, the company also oversees the Diablo, Overwatch and StarCraft series.

Read More:

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.