A senior attorney with the California Civil Rights Enforcement Agency has resigned, accusing the governor’s office of meddling in a discrimination case against Activision Blizzard.
Melanie Proctor, assistant chief attorney for the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, quit on Tuesday in protest at Gavin Newsom’s resignation in March of chief attorney Janette Wipper, an attorney representing the couple. The Hollywood Reporter† Both attorneys withdrew as agency counsel in the Activision Blizzard lawsuit on April 5.
Newsom in a statement denied allegations of interference in the case, which has been clouded by a conflict with a federal agency.
“Claims of interference by our office are categorically false,” said office communications director Erin Mellon. “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.”
In an email to staff on April 12, reviewed by Bloomberg, who first reported the resignation, Proctor said Newsom’s office “started interfering” in recent weeks as the agency’s lawsuit against Activision Blizzard continued in Los Angeles Superior Court. She accused the governor of “favoring those with political influence”.
“The governor’s office repeatedly demanded advance notice of the lawsuit strategy and of the next steps in the process,” Proctor wrote in the email. “As we continued to win in state court, this interference increased, mimicking the interests of Activision’s attorney.”
Wipper will no longer be in her position from April 14. Alexis Ronickher, a partner at Katz, Marshall & Banks who represents her and Proctor, said in a statement that Wipper is “evaluating all remedies, including a claim under the California Whistleblower Protection Act.”
The allegations of obstruction complicate DFEH’s lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, which Microsoft has proposed to buy for $68.7 billion in a deal that could reshape the game industry. The complaint mainly contains allegations of discrimination against the company, centered on allegations of a “frat boy” culture in which women are subjected to unequal pay, constant sexual harassment and retaliation.
The agency, which was the first to file a lawsuit, had tried to block a proposed $18 million settlement in a similar case by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It argued the deal could undermine its lawsuit.
Anyone who has been employed by Activision Blizzard since September 2016 can participate in the EEOC’s deal on harassment, retaliation and pregnancy discrimination claims. By doing so, they waive their right to participate in the DFEH’s lawsuit over overlapping allegations.
A federal judge on March 29 approved the deal after objections from the California agency.
Some critics, including employees of Activision Blizzard and the Communications Workers of America, opposed EEOC’s settlement. The CWA argued that it is “quite inadequate” and aims to pre-empt the lawsuit brought by DFEH. She claimed that California law provides for greater damages and that she would prefer DFEH to continue its case.
Ronickher said DFEH is thriving under Wipper’s leadership, pointing to a $100 million settlement with Riot Games to resolve a class action based on gender discrimination.
“Both Ms. Wipper and Ms. Proctor encourage DFEH to continue its independent and fair enforcement of California civil rights laws,” Ronickher continued. “For justice to be done, those with political influence must be forced to play by the same set of laws and rules.”