The on-going sexual harassment lawsuit filed by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing against Activision-Blizzard has taken a new turn as the company is freshly accused of suppressing and destroying relevant evidence. Additionally, the DFEH has also raised concerns about the company hiring a third party for investigation efforts.
This most recent expansion to the lawsuit filed by the DFEH comes after the lawsuit had already been amended to include additional testimonials from harassment victims who spoke out after the initial filing. The lawsuit already lead to key individuals leaving the company, its stock to drop and development stalling on some projects, but Activision-Blizzard's ineffectual and incendiary response has also led to additional criticism.
Now the company is looking to face a lot more anger, as accusations of the suppression and destruction of evidence have been added to the lawsuit. The DFEH claims that documents about sexual harassment at the company, reports by employees and relevant emails have been shredded and deleted in violation of retention laws concerning on-going legal disputes.
Described as "willful, malicious, fraudulent, and oppressive", the department has accused the company of doing this with the deliberate goal of impeding the investigation. On that note, the DFEH also criticized the move to hire a third party for internal investigations.
When Bobby Kotick graced the situation with an official response - only after stocks fell and Frances Townsend dismissed the victims' claims - he stated that law firm WilmerHale has been hired to conduct a review of company policy, and he urged employees with concerns to approach WilmerHale in confidence.
WilmerHale is known for its union busting practices and penchant for protecting corporate interests at the expense of worker's rights. The DFEH has stated that the involvement of WilmerHale "interferes with DFEH’s statutory mandate to investigate, prosecute, and remedy workplace discrimination and harassment violations."
On the surface, it seems as though Activision-Blizzard is running damage control - carefully manicured statements, those named in the lawsuit leaving the company, references to offenders scrubbed from games - however behind closed doors the flavor of damage control is very different.
Alongside the deliberate destruction of evidence, the DFEH has claimed that Activision-Blizzard scrambled to impose new non-disclosure agreements on employees to suppress further reports, and to punish employees cooperating with the investigation. These agreements force employees to inform the company before they speak to the government or DFEH.
The new amendments have also adjusted the lawsuit to specifically include language referring to contract workers as well as full-time employees. The intent to include contract workers was always present, but the language used to compose the lawsuit gave Activision-Blizzard a loophole, and recently many contract workers - such as those in QA or customer service - have spoken out about mistreatment.
Despite mounting evidence and accusations of deliberately impeding the investigation, Activision-Blizzard officially denied these claims. The company stated that it "complied with every proper request in support of its review even as we had been implementing reforms to ensure our workplaces are welcoming and safe for every employee."
"With regards to claims that we have destroyed information by shredding documents, those claims are not true. We took appropriate steps to preserve information relevant to the DFEH investigation.", the statement continues. Activision-Blizzard maintains that is has complied with requests and shares the DFEH's goal of a safe and welcoming workplace.
Meanwhile, claims of the opposite mount, and we've seen plenty to indicate otherwise. Frances Townsend, responsible for the initial response that resulted in a huge controversy of its own, took to blocking Activision-Blizzard employees who openly criticized her letter, before deactivating her Twitter account right after retweeting an article critical of "whistleblowers".
She, and Bobby Kotick under whose leadership these abuses were allowed, remain with the company.
Activision-Blizzard isn't the only company in hot water for not only discrimination and sexual harassment, but poor conduct following a lawsuit - recently Riot was accused of deliberately keeping employees in the dark about their rights despite a court order.
While a company which harbored harassment and discrimination for years employing underhanded tactics to escape responsibility should come as a surprise to none, it is definitely a disappointment. In any case, this sexual harassment lawsuit looks like its here for the long haul, and will color the future of Activision-Blizzard as a whole.