The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) recently lost the two lead attorneys in its ongoing gender discrimination lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. The chief counsel was fired by the state governor Gavin Newsom, while the deputy chief counsel resigned today in protest. The assistant claimed that the governor actively interfered in the lawsuit against the call of Duty Publisher.
Bloomberg reported today that DFEH Deputy Chief Counsel Melanie Proctor resigned last Tuesday to protest Gov. Gavin Newsom’s firing of her boss, Janette Wipper. This shot came after the couple had withdrew from the lawsuit on April 5th. this lawsuit, submitted on July 20 last yearalleges that a “frat boy” culture existed at the video game publisher and that there were widespread patterns of female employees at the company being harassed, discriminated against and abused by male colleagues and supervisors.
In an email sent to DFEH staffers, Proctor alleges that Governor Newsom “began interfering with her lawsuit” a few weeks earlier. His office “repeatedly requested advance notice of trial strategy and next steps in the process.” The demands reportedly grew more frequent as DFEH began winning in state courts, and Proctor’s email said the interference from Newsom’s office was “mocking[ed] the interests of Activision’s legal counsel.” Wipper tried to “protect the agency’s independence” before being fired. Proctor resigned in protest at the governor’s actions and the firing.
Wipper’s spokesman said Bloomberg that the former chief counsel will pursue legal remedies, including a claim under the California Whistleblower Protection Act.
Activision Blizzard had previously reached an $18 million settlement on March 29 in federal court before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency conducting its own lawsuit. However, critics of the settlement have argued that the amount is too small to meaningfully hold an immensely profitable game publisher to account. Despite the settlement, DFEH intended to pursue its own lawsuit in court. In her Cancellation via emailProctor asked the remaining DFEH staff to continue work on the lawsuit against Activision Blizzard.
The state agency has pushed for major settlements in lawsuits against major video game companies in the past. Riot Games was originally scheduled to settle a $10 million gender discrimination lawsuit, but the DFEH stepped in. advance the settlement up to $100 million.
A spokesman for DFEH said Kotaku: “The DFEH does not comment on personnel matters. DFEH will continue to vigorously enforce California’s civil rights and fair housing laws.”
Alexis Ronickher, representing former California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) Chief Counsel Janette Wipper and DFEH Deputy Chief Counsel Melanie Proctor, released the following statement in response to press inquiries about Ms. Wipper’s termination:
“As Chief Counsel of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), Janet Wipper has prosecuted systematic violations of California’s equal pay and protection from harassment laws for the past four years. Under her leadership, DFEH has achieved unprecedented results, including a state settlement benefiting 2,000 women in DFEH vs. Riot Games, Inc.for 100 million dollars.
“On March 29, 2022, in the midst of her success in pursuing DFEH’s gender discrimination and sexual harassment case against Activision Blizzard, Inc., Governor Newsom’s office notified Ms. Wipper that she was resigning from her employment. Just four months earlier, Gov. Newsom had reappointed Ms. Wipper, and DFEH Director Kevin Kish had publicly celebrated the reappointment. Her last day is today, April 13, 2022.
In protest at the circumstances of Ms. Wipper’s termination, DFEH’s Assistant Chief Counsel, Melanie Proctor, who also served as counsel in DFEH’s litigation Activision Blizzard, has resigned from DFEH effective today. “Ms. Wipper is reviewing all legal remedies, including a claim under the California Whistleblower Protection Act.”
Both Ms. Wipper and Ms. Proctor encourage DFEH to continue its independent and fair enforcement of California civil rights laws. For there to be justice, those with political influence must be forced to abide by the same laws and rules.”
The governor’s office and Activision Blizzard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Updated: 4/13/2022 at 2:35pm ET: Erin Mellon, Governor Newsom’s communications director, made the following statement to Kotaku:
“Claims of interference by our office are categorically false. 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 its efforts to combat all forms of discrimination and protect Californians.”
Updated: 4/13/2022 at 5:12pm ET: DFEH dDirector Kevin Kish sent the following Explanation in an email:
In recent years, under this administration and my leadership, the DFEH has tried landmark cases that are a model for effective government enforcement of civil rights. We continue to do so with the full support of the administration. Our cases are advanced based on the facts, the law, and our commitment to our mission to protect the civil rights of all Californians.
Ethan Gach provided additional coverage for this story.
https://kotaku.com/activision-blizzard-gavin-newsom-california-governor-df-1848788866 California governor accused of interfering in Activision’s lawsuit