When the California Department of Civil Rights opened its case against Activision Blizzard in the summer of 2021, it did so with a single trumpet blast: A press release which stated that the game’s creator “fostered a sexist culture”, “paid women less than men”, “assigned women to lower-level jobs and promoted them at slower rates than men”, “fired or forced women to resign at higher rates than men.” .” Women at the Santa Monica-based company “were subjected to constant sexual harassment, including touching, comments and advances,” the suit claims. Despite the second ring of nefarious activity surrounding them, the agency said “company executives and human rights personnel were aware of the harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent this illegal behavior, and instead retaliated against the women who filed complaints.” In its lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, the department said the entire global operation was permeated by a “pervasive ‘brotherhood’ work culture.”
And then, on Dec. 15, the department, now renamed the state Department of Civil Rights, withdrew its allegations. After two years of “investigation” and two and a half years of violent prosecution against the company, the parties reached an agreement. Activision Blizzard will pay $54 million — and the state will admit that no investigation, including its own, substantiated allegations about a “frat culture,” “systemic harassment” or that company management poorly handled workplace issues.
“No court or independent investigation has substantiated the allegations that there was systemic or widespread sexual harassment at Activision Blizzard,” California admits. There is also no evidence “that senior management at Activision Blizzard ignored, tolerated, or tolerated a systemic culture of harassment, retaliation, or discrimination; or that Activision Blizzard’s board of directors, including its CEO, Robert Kotick, acted inappropriately in its handling of any instances of workplace misconduct.
Given all of this, why did Activision Blizzard agree to pay anything?
“Because they looked at the path forward and decided that the future costs of suing a state with unlimited resources and friendly courts was not a winning proposition,” said a source close to the investigation. After nearly six years, “simply exhausted by the experience,” Activision Blizzard saw an opportunity: Of the $54 million it will pay to settle, the state will take $10 million. The company will use the rest to increase the salaries of its own employees – the employees, the state now admits, have never suffered.
But that $10 million should worry companies doing business in California. This is a unique state “bounty hunter” provision, a legal incentive that allows the state to profit from high-value settlements like this one. It also explains why plaintiffs’ lawyers all over America – and, bizarrely, the comptroller of the city of New York — invaded a California court in hopes of exploiting the state’s bounty hunter provisions to generate a million-dollar windfall. The Mosgts were pushed back with sticks. But not the Department of Civil Rights: it will use its 10 million to pay the bills of the outside lawyers who tried to force Activision Blizzard into submission.
In California, the process constitutes the punishment – that and about $54 million. From investigation to settlement, the state’s case took so long that even the players changed. Midway, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing renamed itself the nobler-sounding Department of Civil Rights. In October, Microsoft overcame resistance from the Federal Trade Commission in federal court and completed its purchase of Activision Blizzard, maker of world-famous games such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Diablo.
And the prosecutor who started it all, DFEH Chief Counsel Janette Wipper? She left after accusing Gov. Gavin Newsom of interfering in her case. In fact, Newsom reportedly read (along with the rest of us) that Wipper sued Activision Blizzard in violation of his agency’s agreement to share the spoils with the federal EEOC. When Wipper’s staff appeared in federal court to block the EEOC settlement, the judge dismissed them and Newsom, who was reportedly furious, fired her. Measuring the rot within the state agency, we note that Wipper’s No. 2 resigned immediately afterward, echoing Wipper’s claims of the governor’s interference. Despite the departures, the agency remained under the same leadership: Wipper’s boss, longtime agency director Kevin Kish, retained his position despite the obvious chaos under him. So, even without Wipperless, the state continued to act according to its own inertia. In an agreement that remarkably resembles the state’s agreement, the federal government finally settled with the video game maker for $18 million.
When the state first revealed its case, forcing journalists from major media outlets including BNCTHE Washington Post, BloombergTHE Wall Street JournalAnd New York Times— pounced on the story so quickly that skeptics could be excused for assuming they were witnessing a well-coordinated campaign. Or perhaps news reports were simply enchanted by a story that fit the current public mood for stories of male looters and their female victims, including salacious tales of sex, drugs and “explorations of cubes” within the most prestigious video game company in the world.
The state’s case “lays bare, for the public, the glaring inequalities that have long plagued a male-dominated industry that has yet to properly address its broken and sexist culture,” said the ministry. Los Angeles Times explained six days later. Despite the evidence – hundreds of exhilarating and exciting reports – the Times could still declare that “no one seems to care.”
After years of this – after hundreds of media reports repeating and even exaggerating the state’s false allegations against Activision Blizzard – how will the company ever restore its good reputation?
Maybe never. There is an old story that was (perhaps still) told to young Catholics before their first confession, which seems appropriate: the inveterate village gossip confesses his sin to the parish priest. His penance consists of reciting the rosary, then tearing a pillow in the church tower. Disconcerted, the sinner obliges and returns to tell the priest that, remarkably, it worked: seeing the feathers blow in the wind and fly away over the village and into the countryside was a revelation, like seeing one’s own soul once transported finally released. . The priest listens without much interest, then says to the sinner: “Good. Now go out and collect the feathers.
Will Swaim is president of the California Policy Center and co-host of National Review’s Radio Free California podcast.
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