A California Civil Rights Lawyer has resigned over what she claimed were unnecessary attempts by Gov. Gavin Newsom and his office to interfere in a state lawsuit against video game giant Activision Blizzard.
Bloomberg reported that Melanie Proctor, assistant chief adviser at California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, told staff in a Tuesday email that she withdrew in protest of the firing of Janette Wipper, the department’s chief attorney who worked at Activision- the lawsuit. Proctor also said Newsom’s office asked for “advance notice” of elements of the lawsuit.
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“As we continued to win in state court, this interference increased, mimicking the interests of Activision’s attorney,” the email read, a copy of which was shown to Bloomberg.
Newsom’s spokeswoman Erin Mellon said allegations of interference from the governor’s office were “categorically false.”
No other details about Newsom’s alleged interference have been released. Activision spokesman Rich George did not immediately respond to an e-mail Thursday.
Activision is a Santa Monica-based company that makes popular games like Call of Duty, Candy Crush and World of Warcraft.
The State Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the company in July, claiming a “frat boy” culture that had become a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.” The state claimed that the company has also failed to pay women fairly and promoted them at a slower pace than men. Black women and other colored women were “particularly affected” by the company’s discriminatory practices, the State Department said in a press release at the time.
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The case is pending in the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Newsom, a Democrat, faces re-election in November. He does not face any major opponents after defeating a recall attempt against him last fall. An Activision board member, Casey Wasserman, donated $ 100,000 to Newsom’s anti-recall campaign, the state’s campaign accounts show. Wasserman could not be immediately reached for comment.
In January, Xbox maker Microsoft announced a nearly $ 69 billion cash deal to buy the company. If approved by U.S. and overseas regulators, it could be one of the largest technology acquisitions in history. In announcing the deal, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted the allegations about Activision, saying it would be “critical” for the company to push forward on longtime CEO Bobby Kotick’s commitments to improve its workplace culture.
Both Wipper and Proctor, the former state employees, have retained Alexis Ronickher, a Washington, DC-based attorney who represents whistleblowers. Ronickher said Wipper was “in the middle of her success” in pursuing the Activision case when she was first contacted by Newsom’s office on March 29.
The statement does not describe the stated reasons for her dismissal. Newsom spokeswoman Mellon said the office could not comment on personnel matters.
Wipper “is evaluating all possible remedies, including a claim under the California Whistleblower Protection Act,” the statement said.
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Wipper and Proctor called on “appropriate regulators” to investigate their allegations.
“In order for there to be justice, those with political influence must be forced to play by the same set of laws and rules,” Ronickher said in the statement.
The Department of Fair Employment and Housing did not immediately provide the Associated Press with a copy of Proctor’s email, saying it should be treated as a request for public records, a process that could take weeks. Ronickher told the AP Proctor would not provide a copy of “any letter of resignation she may have sent.”
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Activision has come under fire from the government and even some shareholders over allegations that management ignored sexual harassment and discrimination against female employees.
A shareholder lawsuit filed last year claims that the company’s negligent reaction resulted in a loss of share value.
The company also agreed last year to pay $ 18 million to settle a complaint from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After a nearly three-year investigation, the agency concluded that Activision failed to take effective action after employees complained of sexual harassment, discrimination against pregnant employees and retaliated against employees who spoke out, including by firing them.
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A federal judge approved the settlement on March 29, the same day Wipper was notified of her dismissal. The judge rejected a request from Wipper’s agency to delay the settlement as it pursued its own case.