Activision Blizzard is asking a California court to halt the state's ongoing discrimination lawsuit over alleged ethical violations first raised by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which has begun engaging in a series of back-and-forth disputes with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
The DFEH sued Activision Blizzard in July after a multi-year investigation into the company's workplace culture, alleging the game publisher and in particular its Blizzard Entertainment subsidiary engaged in discrimination against female employees and fostered a toxic workplace rife with sexism and harassment. However, at the same time, the EEOC has been working with Activision on a separate lawsuit filed in September that has since resulted in an agreement by both parties to settle for $18 million to be paid out to affected employees.
This is where the entire legal saga has devolved into an utter mess, as the EEOC and the DFEH have begun fighting over the progress of their respective lawsuits and how the settlement in one might affect the progress of the other. The DFEH earlier this month objected to the EEOC settlement, writing in a statement, "The proposed consent decree also contains provisions sanctioning the effective destruction and/or tampering of evidence critical to the DFEH's case, such as personnel files and other documents referencing sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination."
The EEOC fired back by accusing top lawyers at the DFEH of violating the California Rule of Professional Conduct, revealing in the process that the lawyers in question were formerly employed by the EEOC during the time of its investigation into Activision Blizzard before joining the DFEH. This would be an ethical violation and may seriously damage the agency's case.
"Specifically, two DFEH attorneys — who play leadership roles within the organization — previously served as EEOC who helped to direct the EEOC's investigation into Commissioner's Charge No. 480-2018-05212 against Activision Blizzard, Inc.," read the EEOC's memorandum. "These same attorneys then proceeded to represent DFEH in connection with these intervention proceedings, which seek to oppose the consent decree that arose out of the very investigation they helped to direct while at the EEOC."
Activision now seems to be latching onto this alleged ethical violation as a way to undermine the DFEH lawsuit, which remains ongoing, and even potentially kill it altogether. "Furthermore, if what the EEOC alleges is true, the ethical violation — and potential disqualification — does not end with the two attorneys who previously worked on this matter during their time at the EEOC," reads Activision Blizzard's complaint. If those two attorneys are disqualified, the complaint goes on, then the whole DFEH might be implicated in the alleged conflict of interest.