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California accuses Activision Blizzard of hampering suit, shredding documents

Update: The California DFEH has filed an update to its lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, accusing the company of stonewalling the state regulator and shredding documents relevant to the its investigation.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has filed an update to its lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, accusing the company of stonewalling the state regulator and shredding documents relevant to its investigation.

The court filing, first spotted by Axios, includes a broad swath of notable updates to the State of California’s case. Most notably, it includes new accusations about Activision Blizzard’s conduct both after the suit was first filed, and its practices for handling paperwork and e-mails that relate to alleged instances of harassment or discrimination.

Firstly, the DFEH is accusing Activision Blizzard of using law firm WilmerHale to stonewall the department and prevent it from talking to employees.

The firm has apparently been hosting listening sessions with employees to hear their complaints, but the DFEH claims that this practice “directly interferes” with the DFEH’s ability to “investigate, prosecute, and remedy workplace discrimination and harassment violations on behalf of employees and contingent or temporary workers."

How does WilmerHale’s presence interfere with the DFEH’s process? The DFEH claims that employees who speak with WilmerHale’s representatives are treated as having spoken confidentially to an attorney.

Activision Blizzard then allegedly turned around and told the DFEH that, because the WilmerHale investigators are attorneys, work “related to receipt or investigations of discrimination or harassment complaints is privileged.”

The amended claim also states that the department was made aware that “that documents and records have not been maintained as required by law or by the DFEH’s Document Retention Notice, including but not limited to documents related to investigations and complaints were shredded by human resource personnel and emails are deleted thirty (30) days after an employee’s separation.”

The DFEH claims this violates California State law, which states that it’s unlawful for employers to not maintain and preserve employment records for a minimum of two years after their creation.

Today’s filing also includes good news for current and former temporary Activision Blizzard employees as well—they are now included as a represented class in the State’s lawsuit. A representative for the employee organizing group A Better ABK praised this move, stating "We are glad to see that those workers in our companies who are not full time employees are being advocated for by the DFEH."

"They work beside us every day and are as much a part of our shared success." 

An Activision Blizzard spokesperson provided the following statement in response to our queries about the DFEH's filing today. It does not directly acknowledge the new accusations.

Throughout our engagement with the DFEH, we have complied with every proper request in support of its review even as we had been implementing reforms to ensure our workplaces are welcoming and safe for every employee. Those changes continue today, and include:

  • Several high-level personnel changes;
  • Revamped hiring and recruiting practices requiring diverse interview panels;
  • Greater transparency on pay equity;
  • Expanded and improved training and investigative capabilities for human resource and compliance staff;
  • Created investigation teams outside of business units to support greater independence;
  • Restructured divisions to support greater accountability;
  • Enhanced review processes to include evaluation of managers by employees;
  • Clear boundaries on workplace behavior with a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and other actions that diminish or marginalize.

We strive to be a company that recognizes and celebrates the diverse talents and perspectives that lead to the creation of great, globally appealing entertainment. We have provided the DFEH with clear evidence that we do not have gender pay or promotion disparities. Our senior leadership is increasingly diverse, with a growing number of women in key leadership roles across the company.

We share DFEH’s goal of a safe, inclusive workplace that rewards employees equitably and are committed to setting an example that others can follow.

The spokesperson also sent a follow-up statement denying that the company has shredded documents. "We took appropriate steps to preserve information relevant to the DFEH investigation," they said. 

If you are an Activision Blizzard employee and wish to share your story confidentially with Gamasutra, you can e-mail the site here, or contact us securely using ProtonMail here.

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