Last week, California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed an objection to an $18 million proposed settlement between Activision Blizzard and the USA's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming it could harm their own lawsuit with the Call Of Duty and World Of Warcraft publishers. This objection might have an adverse affect on their legal battle however, because it revealed that two lawyers working on the DFEH suit had previously worked for the EEOC, specifically investigating Activision Blizzard.
For context, Activision Blizzard is embroiled in a number of legal proceedings at the moment. The two relevant ones here are: the DFEH's lawsuit, which alleges ActiBliz have fostered an culture of sexual harassment, discrimination, unequal pay, and more; and the EEOC settlement, for which Activision Blizzard have agreed to create a claims fund of $18 million for staff who experienced harm from "sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination and/or related retaliation" (though the settlement is not an admission of guilt).
The two cases crossed paths last week, when the DFEH filed an intervention to the EEOC's settlement, claiming it would cause "irreparable harm" to their lawsuit. One of the DFEH's concerns is that vital information pertaining to their case could be lost with the settlement.
"DFEH's pending enforcement action against Defendants will be harmed by uninformed waivers that the proposed decree makes conditional for victims to obtain relief," they said. "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."
As spotted by PC Gamer, the EEOC opposed this objection in a new legal filing bringing up what appears to be a pretty big conflict of interest. Two of the leading lawyers on the DFEH case used to work for the EEOC, and were involved in the very investigation that led to the settlement they're now trying to stop.
According to the filing, this is a breach of the California Rule of Professional Conduct, a potential ethical violation and conflict of interest. This was recognised before the new legal document was filed though, as the EEOC say the DFEH were informed of the conflict and "retained new counsel" before filing their objection. However, it's claimed that the filing took place mere hours after the new folks stepped in, suggesting the previous ones were still involved.
The document further claims the EEOC confronted the two lawyers about this in a call, but the lawyers disconnected when questioned.
Ultimately, the EEOC want the DFEH's objection to be denied, and the two attorneys to be barred from providing further work in connection to the Activision Blizzard proceedings.
"The appropriate remedy to address the violation of Rule 1.11 in this case is to disallow DFEH’s intervention motion and bar DFEH counsel from providing further work product or advice to current counsel," the filing says. "If the Court is inclined to accept the Motion for Intervention, then EEOC respectfully submits its Opposition to the Motion to Intervene... Either way, DFEH’s Motion to Intervene should be denied due to violation of Rule 1.11 and on the merits."
It's unclear how this will affect both cases right now, though Activision Blizzard have plenty more legal proceedings to keep them busy. A group of employees have teamed up with a union to file charges of unfair labour practices, accusing the company of "intimidation and union busting". The US government's Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have also investigated ActiBliz over their handling of sexual misconduct and harassment allegations.