California

Pay to play? Newsom interfering in probe of Activision-Blizzard, whistleblower claims.

A largely under-the-radar probe of the corporate culture of Santa Monica-based video game producer Activision Blizzard by the State of California’s top employment watchdog has prompted one of the lead attorneys on the case to speak out against alleged interference by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Wednesday, Bloomberg News reported that two senior lawyers with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing were ousted, one by resignation and another fired, over interference by Newsom:

Melanie Proctor, the assistant chief counsel for California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, said in an email to staff Tuesday night that she was resigning to protest the fact that her boss at the agency, Chief Counsel Janette Wipper, had been abruptly fired by the governor. Both lawyers had already stepped down from the Activision lawsuit earlier this month without explanation.

The case is currently pending in Los Angeles Superior Court. The lawsuit, which detailed Activision’s “frat boy” culture, led to employee walkouts, calls for the chief executive officer to resign, condemnation from its business partners and a stock plunge that culminated in Microsoft Corp.’s agreement earlier this year to purchase the company for $69 billion.

Proctor said in the email to staff that in recent weeks, California Governor Gavin 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,” Proctor wrote in the email, which was seen by Bloomberg. “As we continued to win in state court, this interference increased, mimicking the interests of Activision’s counsel.”

In her resignation email, Proctor slammed the governor’s office, writing that “justice should be administered equally, not favoring those with political influence.” She encouraged staff to continue working on the agency’s ongoing litigation “to the best of your abilities.”

The allegations of investigative meddling by Newsom were compounded by a Politico story detailing six-figure contributions made by Activision board members to Newsom’s recall defense committee last year:

Casey Wasserman, CEO of the Wasserman Media Group, is a director at Activision Blizzard, according to the company’s website, and sits on the board of directors and the board’s nominating and corporate governance committee. Just weeks after the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed the July suit against the company, alleging a “frat boy” culture of rampant sexual harassment and discrimination against women, Wasserman donated $100,000 to the Stop the Republican Recall of Governor Newsom campaign, according to campaign finance records.

Newsom’s office has strenuously denied interference in the investigation, with a spokeswoman saying such claims were “categorically false.”

Les Hubbard is a contributing reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun.