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Activision Blizzard ‘suppressed’ evidence in sex discrimination lawsuit, California claims

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Language in the suit was expanded to include contract workers

Graphic of the Blizzard logo on a glowing blue background Illustration: James Bareham/Polygon

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has expanded its gender discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit to allege that Activision Blizzard “suppressed” evidence during DFEH’s initial investigation.

Axios reported Tuesday that the DFEH’s complaint against Activision Blizzard was amended Monday to include new allegations of retaliation — specifically that the company “suppressed evidence and interfered with a government investigation.” Updated portions of the complaint state that Activision Blizzard reportedly “shredded” internal documents related to complaints and investigations; Activision Blizzard violated the law by not holding onto these sorts of documents.

The DFEH called these actions “willful, malicious, fraudulent, and oppressive.”

Though Activision Blizzard originally said the DFEH “rushed to file an inaccurate complaint” in July, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick did eventually issue a statement that called its initial response “tone deaf,” vowing to improve company culture. Kotick also said at the time that Activision Blizzard hired a third-party law firm, WilmerHale, “to conduct a review of our policies and procedures.” However, employees have continued to speak out against the WilmerHale investigation, because of its alleged union-busting tactics. On its website, WilmerHale describes its work as advising on “unions and management-employee relations.”

The DFEH specifically calls out the WilmerHale investigation as something that “directly interferes” with its own investigation. The agency also alleged that Activision Blizzard has engaged in “secret settlements of sexual harassment claims, non-disclosure agreements, and non-disparagement agreements with severe penalties against employees.” Those agreements require employees to inform Activision Blizzard before speaking with the DFEH or other government agencies regarding workplace complaints.

Throughout the amended complaint, the DFEH also updated its language to explicitly include contingent and contract workers, too. In August, contract workers shared their experiences across Activision Blizzard — specifically highlighting the brutal crunch periods and low pay. The contract system employed by Activision Blizzard leaves workers feeling devalued and replaceable, a precarious position wherein workers feel vulnerable because of that lack of stability.

“I cried when I got the job,” a contracted Activision Blizzard worker told Polygon at the time. “I was so excited to be a part of the process, and to be in this industry. It’s always been my dream to work in video games. And now I feel crushed.”

Activision Blizzard told Polygon it “complied with every proper request in support of its review even as we had been implementing reforms to ensure our workplaces are welcoming and safe for every employee.”

It continued: “With regards to claims that we have destroyed information by shredding documents, those claims are not true. We took appropriate steps to preserve information relevant to the DFEH investigation.”

Update: An Activision Blizzard spokesperson provided the following statement to Polygon.

Throughout our engagement with the DFEH, we have complied with every proper request in support of its review even as we had been implementing reforms to ensure our workplaces are welcoming and safe for every employee. Those changes continue today, and include:

· Several high-level personnel changes;

· Revamped hiring and recruiting practices requiring diverse interview panels;

· Greater transparency on pay equity;

· Expanded and improved training and investigative capabilities for human resource and compliance staff;

· Created investigation teams outside of business units to support greater independence;

· Restructured divisions to support greater accountability;

· Enhanced review processes to include evaluation of managers by employees;

· Clear boundaries on workplace behavior with a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and other actions that diminish or marginalize.

We strive to be a company that recognizes and celebrates the diverse talents and perspectives that lead to the creation of great, globally appealing entertainment. We have provided the DFEH with clear evidence that we do not have gender pay or promotion disparities. Our senior leadership is increasingly diverse, with a growing number of women in key leadership roles across the company.

We share DFEH’s goal of a safe, inclusive workplace that rewards employees equitably and are committed to setting an example that others can follow.

With regards to claims that we have destroyed information by shredding documents, those claims are not true. We took appropriate steps to preserve information relevant to the DFEH investigation.

Correction: An earlier version of this story cited a story that reported WilmerHale worked with Amazon for its union-busing tactics. A WilmerHale representative told Polygon that it is “not a client to Amazon.” Jamie Gorelick, a partner at WilmerHale, is a director on Amazon’s board. This story has been updated to reflect that information.