California State Attorney Suing Activision Blizzard Fired

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A top California civil rights attorney was fired while working a discrimination case against video game giant Activision Blizzard, and her colleague quit Wednesday in protest, a whistleblower attorney said.

Janette Wipper was fired as chief counsel for the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing on March 29 “amid her success” in prosecuting the case, her attorney Alexis Ronickher said.

Melanie Proctor, an assistant chief attorney who was also involved in the Activision case, resigned on Wednesday, Proctor’s official last day, the attorney said.

Ronickher did not state why Wipper was terminated. However, she said Wipper was considering filing a lawsuit under California’s Whistleblower Protection Act.

The attorney noted that Gov. Gavin Newsom had reinstated Wipper to her position just four months before she was fired.

Bloomberg was the first to report the reorganization on Wednesday, citing an email from Proctor to department staff accusing Newsom and his office of meddling in Activision’s lawsuit.

“For there to be justice, those with political influence must be forced to abide by the same laws and rules,” Ronickher said in a statement.

“Claims of interference by our office are categorically false,” Newsom spokeswoman Erin Mellon said in a statement Wednesday.

The administration supports the Department of Fair Employment’s efforts to “fight all forms of discrimination and protect Californians,” Mellon said.

The agency sued the Santa Monica-based video game company in July, accusing a “fraternity boy” culture that has become a “hotbed of harassment and discrimination against women.”

It was one of several legal issues affecting the maker of Call of Duty and Candy Crush, dragging its stock price down over the past year and paving the way for Xbox maker Microsoft to launch a takeover bid.

The $68.7 billion cash deal was announced in January. If approved by US and foreign regulators, this could be one of the largest technology acquisitions in history.

Announcing the agreement, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pointed to the allegations against Activision and said it was “critical” for the company to advance longtime CEO Bobby Kotick’s commitments to improving its workplace culture.

Neither Microsoft nor Activision responded to a request for comment Wednesday.

Activision has come under fire from the government and even some shareholders over allegations that management has ignored sexual harassment and discrimination against female employees.

A shareholder lawsuit filed last year alleges that the company’s negligent response caused its stock to fall in value.

The company also agreed last year to pay $18 million to settle a complaint from the US Equal Opportunity Commission. After a nearly three-year investigation, the agency concluded that Activision failed to take effective action after employees complained of sexual harassment, discriminated against pregnant employees and retaliated, including by firing them, at employees who spoke out.

A federal judge approved the settlement on March 29, the same day Wipper was notified of her firing. The judge denied a request from Wipper’s agency to delay the settlement as it was pursuing its own case.

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