Federal Judge Dale S. Fischer has declared that she will not allow the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing to intervene in Activision Blizzard's proposed $18 million settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Fischer's statement was observed by the team at Bloomberg Law in a remote hearing that took place yesterday in the U.S. District court for the Central District of California.
This hearing did not lead to a final ruling on the California DFEH's attempt to interrupt the settlement, but Fischer stated that "I’m not going to allow the DFEH to intervene, it’s just not appropriate," and that it's "highly unlikely that I would change my mind and allow the DFEH to intervene."
On the surface, this doesn't mean the $18 million settlement has a green light just yet. Fischer noted that she has not decided on if she'll approve the consent decree, which would create a legal fund for victims of sexual harassment and discrimination at the company, and require it to make specific changes in company culture. Fischer is expected to weigh in on the final terms of the consent decree in January of 2022.
According to Bloomberg Law, the California DFEH objected to the settlement on the grounds that it might release Activision Blizzard from "state claims," which relate to its own lawsuit against the company.
Fischer publicly expressed frustration with both the EEOC and DFEH, telling both agencies that their public dispute over the Activision Blizzard allegations were "a bit unseemly."
"I feel like I should send the two of you to a mediator, never mind Activision getting involved on this," she quipped. She noted that the spat risked damaging Activision Blizzard, as well as the employees and former employees who allegedly suffered at the company.
(Activision Blizzard seemed to not mind at all getting wrapped up in this inter-departmental conflict. It attempted to have the DFEH's lawsuit dismissed under complaints of conflict of interest with the EEOC.)
The DFEH was not the only organization to weigh in on the proposed settlement with the EEOC. The Communications Workers of America described it as "a slap in the face to workers," and called the $18 million number "woefully inadequate."
This hearing has other ripple effects on the various legal strategies to hold Activision Blizzard accountable for its alleged culture of toxicity, discrimination, and sexual harassment (that also implicates CEO Bobby Kotick). High-profile lawyer Lisa Bloom slammed the company in a pre-Game Awards press conference, stating that it had violated the terms of its settlement with the EEOC.
Since a judge has not approved said settlement as of yet, that accusation appears to be ill-advised.
Concerns over the settlement with the EEOC stem from the fact that $18 million is barely a drop in bucket of Activision Blizzard's revenue, and the settlement's terms may not properly address the underlying issues at the company. A complicated part of the equation is that there are limits on what kinds of punishments the EEOC can enforce, meaning its settlement with Activision Blizzard might be one of the best tools the agency has to seek accountability.
It continues to be blood-boilingly infuriating that Activision Blizzard is afforded so many options to dodge accountability for some jaw-droppingly shocking behavior. It's able to settle with the EEOC, publicly argue with the DFEH, send messages to workers denying any long-term issues, and publicly pledge to "do better" for workers harmed by the company.
When Activision Blizzard workers are still tweeting about unequal conditions at the company (we spotted a thread between employees recently where it was discussed how breast-pumping rooms for new parents were not properly updated until people complainted on Twitter last week), and federal authorities seem interested in letting the company pay its way out this mess--what other option is there other than to organize?
Whatever change Activision Blizzard is promising to make to regulators, it has been doing so while reinforcing pay disparity for employees like former Blizzard co-chair Jen O'Neal, protecting employees like recently dismissed Treyarch co-founder Dan Bunting, and hacking away at QA staffing levels to justify full-time hiring elsewhere.