May 16, 2022

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Judge agrees to Activision Blizzard's settlement with EEOC over sexual harassment claim

Judge agrees to Activision Blizzard’s settlement with EEOC over sexual harassment claim

US District Judge Dale Fisher said during a virtual Zoom hearing on the March 29 settlement that she could not prevent anyone from filing appeals, but that her intention was to sign the agreement.

“I will sign the consent decree, which will close this case,” Fisher told a DFEH representative on the call, which first sued Activision Blizzard and asked for a delay in agreeing to the settlement. “You have already made a proposal. Your request is late. Talk to the Ninth Circuit.”

Anyone who worked at Activision Blizzard from September 1, 2016 to the present day can file a complaint, especially about sexual harassment, retaliation, or discrimination during pregnancy. The EEOC settlement is only optional, so claimants are required to provide paperwork that will be considered for relief.

Those who choose to become part of the EEOC settlement will waive their rights to be a part of a California agency’s lawsuit over specific issues related to harassment, retaliation, or discrimination during pregnancy. If they have other claims — for example, pay inequality, which the EEOC agreement with Activision Blizzard does not cover — those former or current Activision Blizzard employees can still pursue a California lawsuit. Each individual’s status will depend on their experiences in the company.

“You can’t dive twice. That’s the reality of these settlements,” said Anna Park, a Los Angeles district attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). “There has been a lot of confusion about that. … We want to encourage everyone to make a very informed decision.”

In a press release following the settlement on Tuesday, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said the company’s goal is to become “a model for the industry, and we will continue to focus on eliminating harassment and discrimination in our workplace. Court approval of this settlement is an important step.” in ensuring that our employees have mechanisms for redress if they experience any form of harassment or retaliation.”

After the settlement, EEOC spokeswoman Nicole Saint-Germain said the committee was pleased with the outcome.

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Two women who previously worked at Activision Blizzard but left the company told The Post that they would file a claim in the EEOC case because they wanted the company to be held liable.

“For me, I just want a solution,” said a former Activision Blizzard employee from Texas who said she faced sexual harassment, discrimination, and sexism while working for the company. “I don’t want it to drag on anymore. I think that’s the most important thing at this point because I think people need to see that it has an end and results.”

The EEOC, a federal agency, and the DFEH, a government agency, share jurisdiction over workplace sexual harassment cases, and both agencies received anonymous tips in 2018 to investigate Activision Blizzard. The two agencies got into a fight the amount to be paid to victims in the settlement, and concerns that a federal-level settlement between the EEOC and Activision Blizzard could prevent DFEH from pursuing further damages statewide. Final approval of the September settlement has been pushed back to March, due to ongoing backsliding between agencies.

“DFEH will continue to pursue a strong lawsuit against Activision in California state court,” DFEH spokeswoman Fahiza Alim said in a statement last week. “In recent weeks, the DFEH has denied Activision’s request that the court dismiss the DFEH case, and the DFEH has sought documents and other evidence of sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation violations over many years by Activision. The court has set a trial date for February 2023.”

Among the critics of the EEOC settlement, apart from the DFEH, are a large number of Activision Blizzard workers and their ally, the Media Workers Union of America (CWA). They believe that $18 million is not enough for hundreds or more victims. at Letter to the EEOC on October 6CWA called the $18 million “unfortunately inadequate” and said Activision Blizzard and CWA employees have “serious concerns” about the settlement agreement. EEOC lawyers say $18 million is still a lot of money, and since the majority of Activision Blizzard’s 10,000 employees are male, there are unlikely to be thousands of claimants to hand out the money. The $18 million settlement with the EEOC is the second largest sexual harassment settlement the agency has ever negotiated.

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“We certainly think there is more than enough money in this $18 million,” Elena Baca, a partner at law firm Paul Hastings and legal counsel for Activision Blizzard in the EEOC suit, told The Post. “When you look at other settlements, people sometimes think ‘OK, every employee is going to need to be paid.’ But that’s not the case here. … to the extent that there are people with valid concerns and claims that they want the EEOC to evaluate and make an evaluation. “.

Last December, Riot Games announced It was stabilizing in 2018 A class action gender discrimination lawsuit with California state agencies and current and former female employees for $100 million. This lawsuit was brought up as a point of comparison in court filings about the proposed Activision Blizzard-EEOC settlement.

“I know the focus has always been on money, but it’s not just about money and it can’t be about money,” Park said. “As an executive agency, it has to be about how you go about bringing the company into compliance because that affects the daily lives of a lot of people.”

Andrew Torres, who owns a law firm and hosts the Opening Arguments podcast, who owns Activision Blizzard suit coveredLast week, he said the judge’s ruling is a victory for Activision Blizzard and could help invalidate the DFEH lawsuit.

“It is a clear win for Activision Blizzard. They are losing a small amount and they are effectively undermining state law actions where the state agency has been much more aggressive,” Torres said, referring to the DFEH lawsuit. $2.16 billion in revenue in the quarter ended December and a total of $8.8 billion in 2021.

Baka, Activision’s legal counsel, said it was “fair to describe” the settlement as a win-win for the company.

“I actually think it would be more of a victory for the people who have the allegations,” Baca said. The idea of ​​waiting for different lawsuits – who knows what will happen to that lawsuit? People can always file their claims, they will never stop, they can file an arbitration case, they can file a lawsuit, they can file whatever they see fit… and that really brings finality and a process to people not available anywhere else.”

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In addition to the $18 million that will be paid to the plaintiffs, Activision Blizzard must also create harassment and discrimination prevention programs at the company that will be reviewed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The company announced that the remaining money may go to charities to advance women in gaming or spread awareness about gender equality issues. Press release for investors last September. Activision is legally required To deposit funds into an escrow account within 30 days.

As part of the agreement with the EEOC in addition to the $18 million, Activision is required to expand mental health counseling services and will add a new employee evaluation process where employees can leave feedback about their superiors. An independent EEOC expert appointed by the company will report to the EEOC. The company must also provide mandatory sexual harassment training that is live and interactive.

The agreement will be valid for three years. If Activision does not comply, the EEOC can seek all forms of relief, including financial or sanctions in extreme cases. EEOC lawyers say that if compliance falls short of standards, they can request an extension.

“I have one daughter who is a college student and another who graduated from high school and they are entering the job market,” Park said. “And you never want it to be their first work experience where they are being harassed. We try to create and improve a work environment. This is our job to serve that public interest.”