Activision Blizzard Disciplining Workers While Delaying Lawsuit

The DFEH suit against Activision Blizzard has run into an ethics snag.
The DFEH suit against Activision Blizzard has run into an ethics snag. / SOPA Images/GettyImages

Activision Blizzard says more than 20 employees have "exited" the company, and more than 20 others have faced disciplinary action, in the wake of a lawsuit detailing a culture of sexism and gender-based discrimination at the company.

The news comes from an interview between the Financial Times (via Kotaku) and Activision Blizzard chief compliance officer Fran Townsend.

"It doesn't matter what your rank is, what your job is," Townsend said. "If you've committed some sort of misconduct or you're a leader who has tolerated a culture that is not consistent with our values, we're going to take action."

The Financial Times also included a long email Townsend sent to staff about the company's plans to restructure its ethics & compliance and employee relations teams. She said Activision Blizzard had hired three new staff members to investigate reports of misconduct, and plans to hire for 19 more roles.

This apparently hardline approach to misconduct reports is an abrupt about-face for Townsend, who initially dismissed the suit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing as "meritless and irresponsible." That response led Blizzard employees to organize a walkout in protest.

Before joining Activision Blizzard, Townsend served as Assistant tot he President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism during the Bush administration. In that role, she defended the Bush administration's use of torture.

In a separate development, Activision Blizzard has filed an application to stay proceedings in the DFEH case after the agency was accused of possible ethics violations by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which led its own investigation into Activision Blizzard.

The EEOC had previously announced a potential settlement with Activision Blizzard worth $18 million. When the DFEH objected to the low dollar amount, the EEOC responded by saying two attorneys leading the DFEH in its Activision Blizzard investigation had previously served at the EEOC and led that agency's investigation, which would constitute an ethics violation.

All this lawyerly infighting may now provide cover for Activision Blizzard to avoid or severely undermine the DFEH's case against it. For now, the motion to stay proceedings has yet to be granted.