A lawyer involved in the prosecution of Activision Blizzard’s current sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit has resigned from his position in protest over alleged interference in the case from California Governor Gavin Newsom.
According to Bloomberg, Assistant Chief Counsel for California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) Melanie Proctor resigned from her position on April 12th in protest of her superior, Chief Counsel Janette Wipper, having been removed from the case by Governor Newsom.
Wipper and Proctor’s exit from the case was previously announced on April 5th via a Notice of Withdrawal filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court. At the time, no reason was publicly given for their stepping down.
However, in Proctor’s resignation email – as obtained by Bloomberg – the lawyer stated that the reason she decided to leave was because Newsom and his office “began to interfere” with the lawsuit.
“The Office of the Governor repeatedly demanded advance notice of litigation strategy and of next steps in the litigation,” Proctor claimed. “As we continued to win in state court, this interference increased, mimicking the interests of Activision’s counsel.”
She further claimed that Wipper’s attempts “to protect” the DFEH’s independence resulted in the senior attorney being “abruptly terminated” from her role by the state in retaliation.
“Justice should be administered equally, not favoring those with political influence,” Proctor declared, encouraging staff to continue their work on the lawsuit in her stead “to the best of your abilities.”
“I hereby resign, effective April 13, 2022, in protest of the interference and Janette’s termination,” her resignation letter concluded.
A spokeswoman for Wipper additionally Bloomberg that the former Chief Counsel was “evaluating all avenues of legal recourse including a claim under the California Whistleblower Protection Act.”
A spokesperson for Newsom’s office referred Bloomberg’s request for comment to the DFEH, whose own representative in turn stated they would not comment on personal matters and assured the outlet that the “DFEH will continue to vigorously enforce California’s civil rights and fair housing laws.”
However, the Governor’s Communications Director, Erin Mellon, gave Bloomberg a more direct response, asserting that “claims of interference by our office are categorically false” and promising that Newsom’s office “will continue to support DFEH in their efforts to fight all forms of discrimination and protect Californians.”
Regarding Wipper, a number of individuals who were familiar with the attorney offered her nothing but praise for her work.
One anonymous DFEH employee who spoke to Bloomberg, despite being ordered not to do so by their superiors, claimed that Wipper was widely respected and had drastically improved the agency’s operations.
Speaking to her experience with Wipper, attorney Jennifer Reisch openly commended the now-former California lawyer, opining, “For the first time in its history, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing had a strong litigator who was actually flexing the significant muscles that statute and regulations provide to protect workers in its state.”
However, Wipper was not without her detractors.
In 2021, lawyer John C. Fox of the firm Fox, Wang & Morgan PC criticized the attorney and her leadership of the DFEH of being too aggressive.
“California has very able, very numerous civil rights plaintiff’s lawyers who have led the nation in civil rights enforcement,” Fox told Bloomberg. “There’s no reason for the state to spend resources on these types of lawsuits.”
This resignation comes after Activision Blizzard had agreed – for the second time – to a settlement with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Originally, an $18 million fund for victims had been agreed upon on September 2021, but the DFEH objected on the grounds that not only was the amount too little, but that part of the resulting deal allowed for “the effective destruction and/or tampering of evidence.”
In turn, the EEOC accused the DFEH of a conflict of interest, noting that two attorneys who had previously worked with the EEOC and dealt with Activision Blizzard had since gone to work with the DFEH on their own litigation against the company.
Nonetheless, the settlement was recently reported to be going forward.
On March 29th, former Kotaku Editor-in-Chief-turned-Axios journalist Stephen Totilo reported “BREAKING. And it’s a wrap on the EEOC-Activision settlement (aside from any appeals).”
“Judge Fischer ‘I am going to sign the consent decree, which will close this case,'” he added, quoting the trial’s proceeding authority. “$18 million victims fund, three years of oversight. California makes clear it’ll appeal the consent decree”
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