Bloomberg Law
Dec. 8, 2022, 2:38 PM

Activision Sues California Agency, Seeking Media Message Traffic

Joyce E. Cutler
Joyce E. Cutler
Staff Correspondent

Activision Blizzard Inc. sued the California Civil Rights Department to get communications the game company contends show the agency is using media to push the video game maker into a sexual discrimination and harassment case settlement.

The California Civil Rights Department “unlawfully” sued Activision in July 2021 and “deliberately unleashed a hurricane of hostile media coverage against the Company based on malicious and knowingly false assertions,” the company alleged in its complaint filed under the state’s Public Records Act. “It also worked with activists who contributed to the CRD’s media war. This was neither an accident nor a coincidence.”

The Sacramento Superior Court lawsuit, which was filed Dec. 6 but made available to the public Thursday, is the latest salvo in a wider war involving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state Civil Rights Department over who gets to admonish Activision for alleged sexual harassment and discrimination, including gender discrimination in pay.

The litigation—in its various permutations—now spans four courts, two state and two federal. Instead of civil rights or employment law, the newest filing is using the records act to push the agency to provide records of communications with what the lawsuit said are favored media outlets, including Bloomberg News, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Verge, Washington Post, and Sacramento Bee.

The Sacramento lawsuit comes a week after Activision filed in Los Angeles Superior Court a motion to compel the CRD to provide communications in the case that the civil rights agency filed against the company last year. The motion is scheduled for a Feb. 17 hearing, and the state’s lawsuit may not get to trial until 2024.

Those same two parties are simultaneously sparring in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit over the California agency’s US District Court for the Central District of California-rejected request to intervene in the federal lawsuit and $18 million settlement the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reached with with Activision over sexual harassment and discrimination claims.

Oral arguments before the San Francisco-based appellate panel are expected in the spring.

The state’s Activision suit, filed after that of the EEOC, followed a two-year investigation into allegations the company discriminated against female employees in terms and conditions of employment, including in compensation, assignment, promotion, and termination.

The state maintains it is in a better position to represent California victims and that the federal agency is overstepping its bounds.

“As part of that turf war, CRD has mounted a massive media campaign—promoting itself and disparaging the EEOC,” the games maker said in its Public Records Act complaint.

State ‘Campaign’

Activision wants emails between the agency and media outlets and with Communication Workers of America and/or labor’s umbrella group Change to Win. The judge in the Los Angeles case overruled CRD’s privilege claim as to the agency’s communications with the press, “so any privilege assertion is in direct contravention of the Court’s order,” the company’s Dec. 2 motion to compel in LA Superior said. CRD has not yet responded to that latest motion.

The company hired Christopher Skinnell, a partner with the Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni LLP, a Marin County-based law firm specializing in elections, political, and government law and lobbying. Skinnell made public records requests for communications that include emails with what the lawsuit said are friendly media and offered off-the-record conversations with those reporters “who write articles supportive of the agency’s inappropriate actions.”

The state agency “orchestrated a comprehensive media campaign in an attempt to bullrush the Company into settling its lawsuit using allegations that the agency knew were unsustainable at trial,” Skinnell said in the lawsuit. CRD Director Kevin Kush and then-Chief Counsel Janette Wipper “engaged in a systemic campaign of off-the-record media briefing and leaking to the media, all in violation of its own stated agency policy not to speak to the media about ongoing matters.”

The California Civil Rights Agency is based in Sacramento, which handles far fewer cases than in Los Angeles. LA Superior Court is the busiest in California, with 210,748 civil cases filed in fiscal year 2020-21, 830,004 criminal cases, and 687,101 traffic citations issued, according to the Judicial Council of California annual report. That compares to Sacramento Superior’s 33,329 civil cases filed, 130,324 criminal cases, and 80,744 traffic citations.

Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni LLP represents Activision. Outten & Golden LLP represents the state.

The case is Skinnell v. California Civil Rights Department, Cal. Super. Ct., No. 2022-80004057, 12/6/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at; Andrew Harris at