Activision Blizzard, facing a discrimination lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (or DFEH), has filed an application to stay that lawsuit so it can investigate claims that DFEH lawyers engaged in ethical misconduct.
The application claims that the DFEH is represented in the case by lawyers who previously worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or EEOC) — a federal agency that investigates claims of workplace abuse. The application additionally claims such an arrangement is in violation of a California State Bar conflict of interest rule that says, “a lawyer who has formerly served as a public official or employee of the government [...] shall not otherwise represent a client in connection with a matter in which the lawyer participated personally and substantially as a public official or employee.”
The application basically alleges that DFEH lawyers should be disqualified from participating in this case against Activision Blizzard since those lawyers previously worked on a similar, prior case against the company when they were employed by the EEOC.
Activision Blizzard recently settled another discrimination lawsuit brought forth by the EEOC for $18 million. The DFEH is trying to block that settlement, and it’s actually the EEOC that raised ethical concerns against DFEH lawyers (perhaps to maintain its win).
“The EEOC claims that two of the DFEH attorneys who have appeared in this case (and who currently ‘play leadership roles within the [DFEH]’) ‘previously served as EEOC [REDACTED],’ during which time they ‘helped to direct the EEOC’s investigation’ against Activision Blizzard,” the application states.
If the court upholds the stay and decides that DFEH lawyers did violate conflict of interest rules, Activision Blizzard claims the case could be in serious trouble. According to the company’s filing, “Violation of these rules could lead to the disqualification not only of the two attorneys at issue, but of the entire group of DFEH attorneys with whom they have worked. It also calls into question the integrity of the underlying investigation itself.”
This move comes just as Blizzard announced 20 employees “exited” the company in the wake of harassment investigations and reprimanded some 20 more. In the months since these lawsuits were made public, some Blizzard employees have continued to agitate for a more equitable workplace, making demands of the company to end forced arbitration and provide greater pay transparency.
The EEOC and the DFEH didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment, and neither the DFEH nor the EEOC have had a chance to formally challenge Activision Blizzard’s claims: neither have filed responses to this application in the courts.
A Blizzard spokesperson says of the filings, “We look forward to resolving the case with the DFEH fairly in an appropriate court. We share the EEOC and DFEH’s goal of a safe, inclusive workplace that rewards employees equitably and remain committed to the elimination of harassment and discrimination in our workplace.”
A hearing on the application will take place October 20th.