In the Media

Activision ‘Frat Boy’ Case Spawns a State v. Federal Tug-of-War (Bloomberg Law)


The California agency charged with protecting workers rights will face off its federal counterpart Tuesday in a clash over which regulator has primacy to rein in an allegedly anti-female “frat boy” culture at the videogames maker Activision Blizzard Inc.

California’s Civil Rights Department contends the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s $18 million consent decree with Activision is being used to thwart the CRD’s rights to pursue remedies for state violations on Californians’ behalf, undermining incentives for claimants to cooperate in legal proceedings.

The agency wants the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to set aside or amend that decree, narrowing its scope to federal claims so the CRD can exclusively prosecute state-based violations. It also seeks safeguards to protect evidence and ensure such proof will be available to it in the state’s parallel lawsuit.

The EEOC argued, and the trial court agreed, it adequately represents and protects any interest the state might possess “as the federal agency charged with preventing and remedying employment discrimination nationwide.”

Like its videogame character “Pitfall Harry,” Activision finds itself navigating hazards between two unrelenting agencies intent on exacting concessions and cash for what the CRD said is a “frat boy” culture at the Southern California-based company, even as it works toward change.

The case is an outlier, said Jackson Lewis PC attorney Drew Maunz, who previously served as legal counsel at the EEOC. “It’s not often you see the EEOC and a state civil rights agency going at it, especially publicly.”

The CRD “has been something of a pioneer in pushing the boundaries of what state bodies can accomplish, and their tactics are increasingly being copied in other states (primarily those with Democrat-funded state legislatures),” said Ann Olivarius, partner with McAllister Olivarius, a transatlantic law firm specializing in cases of race and gender discrimination.

Employers will increasingly monitor state regulatory bodies’ rapid rise, she said via email.