California’s DFEH is reportedly objecting Activision Blizzard‘s settlement with the EEOC over allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was the latest of several federal agencies to sue Activision Blizzard. Later the same day, Activision Blizzard announced they had reached an $18 million USD settlement deal with the EEOC. However, it seems this is not good enough for California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
Former Kotaku Editor-in-Chief and Axios journalist Stephen Totilo discovered the new filing by the DFEH; begging for the time needed to properly object, to “avoid irreparable harm to the DFEH’s state court claims in the matter of DFEH v. Activision Blizzard etc. et al. […] as well as the interests of the employees whose interests will be negatively impacted by the proposed consent decree.”
The filing claims that the EEOC failed to comply with notice requirements about the pending DFEH action, or providing enough information about the settlement to the court.
Examples include lacking any information of the DFEH’s actions, the EEOC lacking standing to prosecute, and no information on the Defendant’s potential liabilities, maximum damages recoverable in successful litigation, or the allocation and distribution of monetary relief.
The settlement allegedly proposes destruction or tampering with evidence that would be needed in the DFEH’s case; personnel files and other documents referring to sexual harassment incidents, retaliation, and discrimination. A fairness hearing was also not requested, along with failing to explain to the court while the settlement was deemed fair, adequate or reasonable.
“At a minimum, DFEH’s interests will be irreparably harmed by the Court’s entry of the proposed consent decree. DFEH’s pending enforcement action against Defendants will be harmed by uninformed waivers that the proposed decree makes conditional for victims to obtain relief.”
In short, the settlement between the EEOC and Activision Blizzard would see those making the allegations signing waivers and relevant documents being impossible to use in other legal cases. The DFEH would therefor be unable to prosecute its case.
Totilo notes that while their objection to the Riot Games sexual harassment lawsuit settlement being “rushed,” the settlement was withdrawn by the by the plaintiff’s new lawyers. While the Activision Blizzard settlement has been criticized for being small, it seems to be capped by legal limits.
As previously reported, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing concluded a two year investigation. Their findings lead to a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for “frat boy” style sexual harassment; possibly leading to one woman committing suicide on a company trip. There were also claims of discrimination for women being paid less, and promoted less frequently and after longer periods of time.
Activision Blizzard stated that while there was no place for any kind of harassment in the industry, they felt the Californian report “ includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” An internal email from Activision executive Frances Townsend also described the allegations as “factually incorrect, old and out of context.”
In response, almost 1,000 current and former Activision Blizzard employees signed an open letter condemning the response as “abhorrent and insulting.” It also called for official statements to recognize how serious the allegations were, and demonstrate compassion for the victims.
Staff led a walkout on July 28th. Their demands included ending mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, adopting policies to improve representation at all levels of the company, publishing pay data to show women are paid and promoted fairly, and hiring a third party to audit the company’s executive and HR staff. Sources claimed staff would not be punished for the walkout, and had paid time off.
CEO Bobby Kotick later stated that the company’s initial response was “tone deaf.” He announced the company was bringing in law firm WilmerHale to conduct an immediate review of their policies and procedures.
Kotick also stated the company would investigate all claims, create safe spaces for Listening Sessions organized by third parties, an immediate evaluation of managers and leaders, compliance resources for diverse hiring, and removing NPCs from World of Warcraft inspired by those named in the allegations. Employees stated they were dissatisfied with Kotick’s response for not addressing their demands.
Almost 500 former and current Ubisoft employees announced their support for Activision Blizzard staff in an open letter; calling for new industry-wide rules and processes. Jeff Strain, a former Blizzard Entertainment developer and founder of Undead Labs, recently called for unionization of the video games industry.
An “alliance” of Activision Blizzard staff also rejected WilmerHale as the third party auditing the company. This was due to an alleged conflict of interest, the law firms alleged “history of discouraging workers’ rights and collective action,” and being led by Stephanie Avakian; allegedly specializing in “protecting the wealthy and powerful.”
Coca-Cola and State Farm announced they were reassessing their partnerships with Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League, pulling their promotions from upcoming events. They joined T-Mobile who pulled support from the Call of Duty league shortly after the controversy broke.
Activision’s logo was also omitted from trailers and alpha builds of Call of Duty: Vanguard; later stated as a “creative choice that reflects how Vanguard represents the next major installment in the franchise.”
Blizzard Entertainment also announced they would be renaming Overwatch character McCree (due to being named after a developer named in the allegations), and censoring sexual content in World of Warcraft. This has included censoring in-game paintings featuring women with deep cleavage or in their underwear.
Other changes have included removing “negative” emotes (which some may deem suggest physical or sexual assault and mockery) and adding more positive ones, renaming suggestive enemies (and adding male enemies to some purely female mobs), mounts, and achievements. Flirting and sexually suggestive or otherwise “inappropriate” jokes from player characters were also removed.
Frances Townsend, an Activision Blizzard executive and former Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, deleted her Twitter account; after backlash against her tweet promoting “the problem with whistleblowing.”
Claims from temporary workers have been added to the lawsuit; along with allegations of Activation Blizzard destroying documents relating to employees and pay.
As aforementioned, multiple US federal agencies have also sued Activision Blizzard; such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Communications Workers of America, and the the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Activision settled with the latter for $18 million USD.