A US district court judge has confirmed they’re “prepared to approve” Call of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard’s $18m USD settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year, despite objections from other parties.
Activision Blizzard initially announced it had reached an agreement with the EEOC – to set aside $18m for employees who had experienced harassment and discrimination at the company – last September, but court approval of the settlement was delayed after California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing objected.
In that objection, the DFEH – which had filed its own bombshell lawsuit against Activision Blizzard in July last year, calling the publisher a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women” – claimed the settlement would cause “irreparable harm” to its own ongoing legal proceedings if approved, given that its terms would, among other things, require employees to release Activision Blizzard from claims under California state law.
“DFEH’s pending enforcement action against Defendants will be harmed by uninformed waivers that the proposed decree makes conditional for victims to obtain relief,” it wrote at the time. “The proposed consent decree also contains provisions sanctioning the effective destruction and/or tampering of evidence critical to the DFEH’s case, such as personnel files and other documents referencing sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination.”
Despite the DFEH’s objection – which later resulted in a messy tussle with the EEOC – a US district court judge (as reported by the Washington Post) has now said they’re “prepared to approve” the settlement, writing, “The Court is generally satisfied that both the monetary relief and the nonmonetary provisions are fair, reasonable, and adequate”.
Once approved, claimants who have experienced “sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination and/or related retaliation or constructive discharge” will be able to apply to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for relief, with the commission determining whether a claimant is successful and how much they will be awarded.
Critics of the proposed settlement include the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which called the $18m “woefully inadequate” in its own legal objection filed last year, noting the figure would provide the maximum settlement for only 60 workers. “We are concerned about how the EEOC got to that number and how it believes that number will be fairly distributed,” it wrote at the time.
That $18 million will also be stretched as it pours back into Activision Blizzard so the publisher can establish harassment and discrimination prevention programmes, to be audited by the EEOC. Any remaining funds will then be donated by the EEOC to charities of its choosing, with a focus on those tackling diversity and equality issues in the workplace, awareness of harassment, and promoting women in the games industry.
Needless to say, the $18m payout has raised eyebrows among those comparing it to the billions raked in by Activision Blizzard each year. 2021 saw the publisher report annual revenue of $8.8bn, while controversial CEO Bobby Kotick – who earned $150m in 2020 – is reportedly set to receive $390m following Microsoft’s $69bn acquisition of the company.
Kotick was, of course, alleged to have been aware of sexual misconduct within the company “for years” in a damning Wall Street Journal report published after the DFEH’s lawsuit sent shockwaves across the industry. In response to that report, more than 1,300 Activision Blizzard employees signed a petition calling for Kotick to resign – despite Activision Blizzard’s board of directors insisting it remained “confident” in Kotick’s “leadership, commitment and ability”.
Yet while the EEOC proceedings may be reaching their conclusion, Activision Blizzard faces still more legal action from elsewhere, including the DFEH’s ongoing lawsuit. More recently, a current Activision Blizzard employee raised fresh allegations of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation in a lawsuit aimed at the publisher, and the parents of a former Activision Blizzard employee who committed suicide during a company retreat in 2017 have launched their own legal action, suing the publisher for wrongful death, alleging the suicide was the result of sexual harassment by work colleagues.