Dec 8, 2022 - Technology

Activision sues California agency that sued it over misconduct

Close-up photo of a person's hands as they hold a cell phone that is displaying an Activision logo

Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

A public records lawsuit filed this week on behalf of Activision Blizzard aims to turn the tables on California’s Civil Rights Department, which has been suing the game maker over alleged sexual misconduct and pay discrimination at its workplace.

Why it matters: Activision has been in a bitter dispute with California’s state investigators and has repeatedly tried to get that case tossed.

  • That contrasts with the $18 million settlement it agreed to last September with federal investigators over misconduct at the company.

Driving the news: The new suit, filed to California Superior Court in Sacramento, alleges that the California agency improperly slow-walked or withheld information about its contacts with the media and labor unions regarding the case.

Among the records the company seeks are communications between the Civil Rights Department (CRD) and reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post and other outlets.

  • It also wants to see exchanges with the Communication Workers of America, the labor group that has repped some Activision Blizzard employees in their efforts to unionize since late 2021.
  • And it says California has also failed to turn over documents regarding any internal concerns over the agency’s approach to mediating its issues with Activision.
  • These documents should be produced through California’s Public Records Act, the suit asserts, and Activision wants a judge to force California’s hand.

What they’re saying: "No state agency is above the law, especially one charged with enforcing it" an Activision Blizzard spokesperson told Axios, adding that the agency "has repeatedly refused to follow its legal obligations in this case" to turn over evidence and documents."

  • The lawyer who filed the suit for Activision, Christopher Skinnell, says in the suit that the CRD “deliberately unleashed a hurricane of hostile media coverage against the company based on malicious and knowingly false assertions. It also worked with activists who contributed to the CRD’s media war.”
  • The new lawsuit says the California complaint, which alleged widespread sexual misconduct for years at the company, was "unlawfully filed.”
  • That’s a reference to an argument Activision’s lawyers have repeatedly made that California did not meet its obligations to mediate a settlement prior to suing two summers ago.

The other side: The CRD, for its part, has claimed that it is legally permitted to redact certain information from requests.

  • In court, it has pressed Activision Blizzard to be more forthcoming in fulfilling California’s request for documentation related to the case.
  • It has sought years of records involving potential misconduct at the company and in a court filing this week complained of Activision's "meritless objections" to some of its requests.

Between the lines: It’s unclear if the communications Activision seeks would disclose any illegal actions on California’s part.

  • But it could produce evidence of contradictory statements about dealing with reporters and raise questions about the timing of California’s lawsuit.

Note: The CRD, until recently, was called the Department of Fair Employment & Housing. Earlier coverage of the Activision suit at Axios and other outlets commonly uses the DFEH acronym.

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