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Fate of Activision Blizzard lawsuit unclear as California lawyer accuses governor of interference

Lawyer says Gov. Newsom fired her boss

Image of green grid and shapes with the words Activision Blizzard superimposed over the top Illustration: James Bareham/Polygon
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

A lawyer with California’s Department of Fair Housing and Employment has resigned after accusing Gov. Gavin Newsom of interfering with the state’s Activision Blizzard lawsuit, according to a Bloomberg report.

The lawyer, Melanie Proctor, worked as assistant chief counsel for DFEH, and told staff Tuesday night she was resigning after her boss, chief counsel Janette Wipper, was fired by the governor, Bloomberg reports. The two lawyers left the Activision Blizzard lawsuit earlier this month, according to court documents filed April 5. A representative for the lawyers confirmed to Bloomberg that Proctor resigned and that Wipper was fired. With the two top lawyers off the Activision Blizzard case, the fate of the lawsuit becomes unclear, Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg reports that Proctor told staff that Newsom “began to interfere” with the Activision Blizzard lawsuit, and that his interference began “mimicking the interests of Activision’s counsel.” Wipper was fired after “attempting to protect” the DFEH’s investigation, Bloomberg said. A spokesperson for Wipper told Bloomberg she’s “evaluating all avenues of legal recourse including a claim under the California Whistleblower Protection Act.”

The DFEH told Polygon that it does not comment on “personnel matters,” and said that the department will “continue to vigorously enforce California’s civil rights and fair housing laws.” Newsom’s communications director, Erin Mellon, told Polygon in an emailed statement the “claims of interference by our office are categorically false.”

Mellon continued: “The Newsom administration supports the effective work DFEH has done under Director Kevin Kish to enforce civil rights laws and protect workers, and will continue to support DFEH in their efforts to fight all forms of discrimination and protect Californians.”

The agency filed the lawsuit in July 2021 after a two-year investigation into widespread sexism and sexual harassment at the Overwatch and Call of Duty publisher. The explosive lawsuit accused the company of “constant sexual harassment” from what it described as a “frat boy” culture at Activision Blizzard. In the time since, the company has faced multiple lawsuits and employee walkouts. Employees have also called for CEO Bobby Kotick to resign following a Wall Street Journal report that uncovered the extent of Kotick’s knowledge of employee misconduct.

Activision Blizzard settled another lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for $18 million in September. The DFEH tried to intervene and block that settlement; a judge rejected the attempt earlier this year.

In January, Microsoft announced its intention to acquire Activision Blizzard in a landmark $68.7 billion deal, which will face scrutiny from regulators with the Federal Trade Commission. Chief executive Bobby Kotick also is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice over potential insider trading, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Update (2:27 p.m. EDT): This story has been updated to include comment from Gov. Newsom’s press office.

Update (5:05 p.m. EDT): Following publication, DFEH director Kevin Kish issued a statement regarding Bloomberg’s report. “In recent years, under this administration and my leadership, DFEH has litigated groundbreaking cases that are a model of effective government enforcement of civil rights,” Kish wrote in a statement emailed to press. “We continue to do so with the full support of the administration. Our cases will move forward based on the facts, the law, and our commitment to our mission to protect the civil rights of all Californians.”

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