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California Governor Accused of Meddling in Activision Blizzard Case

California Governor Gavin Newsom.
California Governor Gavin Newsom. / Justin Sullivan/GettyImages

A lawyer with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing has resigned to protest what they say was executive interference with the agency's discrimination suit against Activision Blizzard, Bloomberg reports.

Melanie Proctor, assistant chief counsel for the DEFH, told her staff Tuesday she was resigning from the agency because California Governor Gavin Newsom had abruptly fired her boss, Chief Counsel Janette Wipper. Proctor and Wipper had already stepped down from the Activision Blizzard suit earlier this month without a public explanation.

The DFEH sued Activision Blizzard last summer over a workplace reportedly full of sexual discrimination and misconduct. It kicked off a wave of bad publicity that has only gained momentum since. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission revealed its own suit (which it settled last month), a current employee sued over discrimination and retaliation, and the family of a former employee accused the company's culture of driving her to suicide in its own suit.

And those are just the woes tied to the company's reported "frat boy" culture. Employees have walked off the job calling for CEO Bobby Kotick to resign, to protest proposed layoffs at one development studio owned by Activision Blizzard, and to push back against the company's decision to relax its vaccine mandate. Union organizing is still underway at Raven Software.

In her email to staff, Proctor said Governor Newsom and his office "began to interfere" with the Activision suit.

"The Office of the Governor repeatedly demanded advance notice of litigation strategy and of next steps in the litigation," reads the email. "As we continued to win in state court, this interference increased, mimicking the interests of Activision's counsel."

Proctor says Wipper tried to keep the agency independent, directly leading to her termination. Proctor's resignation is a gesture of solidarity with her former boss, and a sign of protest against the alleged tampering by the governor's office.

Wipper joined the DFEH in 2018, and has a reputation as an aggressive litigator. She targeted high profile tech companies such as Tencent and Tesla, and won a $100 million discrimination settlement from Riot Games in 2021. She's now "evaluating all avenues of legal recourse including a claim under the California Whistleblower Protection Act," according to her spokeswoman, Alexis Ronickher.

Governor Newsom's office referred Bloomberg's request for comment to a DFEH spokesperson, who said they would not comment on personnel matters.

Activision Blizzard is in the process of being acquired by Microsoft in a deal worth a reported $68.7 billion. Several senators have urged the Federal Trade Commission to closely scrutinize the deal for potential anti-trust violations.