California state lawyer suing Activision Blizzard is fired

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A top civil rights lawyer for California was fired while working on a discrimination case against video game giant Activision Blizzard and her colleague quit in protest Wednesday, a whistleblower attorney said.

Janette Wipper was fired on March 29 in “the midst of her success” in pursuing the case as chief counsel for the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, said her lawyer, Alexis Ronickher.

Melanie Proctor, an assistant chief counsel also involved in the Activision case, resigned Wednesday on what was Proctor’s official last day, the attorney said.

Ronickher didn’t specify why Wipper was terminated. However, she said Wipper is considering filing a claim under California’s whistleblower protection law.

The lawyer noted that Gov. Gavin Newsom had reappointed Wipper to her position just four months before she was being terminated.

Bloomberg was first to report the shakeup Wednesday, citing an email from Proctor to department staff accusing Newsom and his office of interfering with the Activision lawsuit.

“For there to be justice, those with political influence must be forced to play by the same set of laws and rules,” Ronickher said in a statement.

“Claims of interference by our office are categorically false,” Newsom spokesperson Erin Mellon said in a statement Wednesday.

The administration supports the fair employment department’s efforts “to fight all forms of discrimination and protect Californians,” Mellon said.

The agency sued the Santa Monica-based video game company in July, alleging a “frat boy” culture that had become a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.”

It was one of several legal problems affecting the maker of Call of Duty and Candy Crush, dragging down its stock price last year and paving the way for Xbox-maker Microsoft to make a takeover bid.

The $68.7 billion all-cash deal was announced in January. If approved by U.S. and overseas regulators, it could be one of the biggest tech acquisitions in history.

In announcing the agreement, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted the allegations about Activision and said it will be “critical” for the company to drive forward on longtime CEO Bobby Kotick’s commitments to improve its workplace culture.

Neither Microsoft nor Activision responded to a request for comment Wednesday.

Activision has come under fire from the government and even some shareholders over allegations that management ignored sexual harassment and discrimination against female employees.

A shareholder suit filed last year alleges that the company’s negligent response resulted in a loss of share value.

The company also agreed last year to pay $18 million to settle a complaint by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After a nearly three-year investigation, the agency concluded that Activision failed to take effective action after employees complained about sexual harassment, discriminated against pregnant employees and retaliated against employees who spoke out, including by firing them.

A federal judge approved the settlement on March 29, the same day that Wipper was notified of her firing. The judge rejected a request by Wipper’s agency to delay the settlement as it pursued its own case.

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