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California accuses Activision Blizzard of ‘withholding and suppressing evidence’

California accuses Activision Blizzard of ‘withholding and suppressing evidence’

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The company promised to become a safe place for employees

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Activision Blizzard’s leaders have promised to work to make the company a safe place for women to work — but California has now accused the company of illegally “withholding and suppressing evidence” and shredding documents that it requested for its investigation (via Axios). California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) originally filed the suit in July, which accused the company of creating a frat-like culture where female employees faced “constant sexual harassment” and discrimination.

The updated complaint can be read below, and you can read the original version here. Since the new version contains the same extremely disturbing details, it warrants the same content warning as the original.

The amended complaint says that Activision Blizzard cited attorney-client privilege when asked for evidence

In a new section of the complaint, the DFEH says Activision Blizzard is encouraging employees to talk to attorneys at the WilmerHale law firm instead of state investigators — and then denying the state access to that evidence because the conversations were confidential. Activision Blizzard had already been criticized by both a company shareholder and the press for hiring WilmerHale, a law firm that was widely reported to have helped Amazon initially defeat its workers’ efforts to organize in Alabama. WilmerHale has now broken its silence to deny any involvement with that effort, and also tells The Verge that it doesn’t do work for Amazon or represent the company in any way.

The DFEH also claims Activision Blizzard tried to get employees to sign away their ability to speak freely to investigators in waivers, “secret settlements,” and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), which would require employees to notify Activision Blizzard before disclosing information about incidents covered by the NDA or settlements. They would also decide how much employees could freely say, giving the company the ability to “take all steps it deems to be appropriate to prevent or limit the required disclosure.”

The complaint now accuses the company of shredding “documents related to investigations”

Activision Blizzard has promised to try to fix its culture after its initial public response was panned by employees, who would later stage a walkout. In a letter to employees published in late July, the company’s CEO promises that “anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated.” The allegations in the updated complaint don’t paint a picture of a company working on fixing its culture, though. For its part, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson told IGN that the company didn’t shred any documents, and that it had preserved “information relevant to the DFEH investigation.”

The complaint has also been updated in several places to clarify that it’s not just full-time employees, but also temps and contingent workers that experienced sexual harassment and discrimination.

Correction: A previous version of this article cited reports that suggested law firm WilmerHale helped Amazon defeat union organization. The law firm now states it wasn’t involved and doesn’t work for or represent Amazon.

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