Legal Report: Activision Blizzard’s $18 Million Sexual Harassment Settlement
Print Issue: July/August 2022
Sexual harassment. Gaming company Activision Blizzard, Inc., will pay an $18 million settlement to end its legal fight with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) over allegations that the company’s female employees faced sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and retaliation.
Details of the allegations were not made public, but the settlement will provide monetary relief to current and former female employees of Activision and its subsidiaries who were employed between September 2016 and March 2022.
The settlement also requires Activision to retain a third-party equal employment opportunity consultant to assist in company audits and provide reports to the EEOC for three years.
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Other internal changes required under the settlement include providing anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and human resources investigations training; implementing alcohol and workplace relationships policies; creating a hotline to report complaints; expanding counseling services for employees subjected to sexual harassment; and allowing victims of sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, or retaliation to have harmful information removed from their personnel files. (EEOC v. Activision Blizzard, Inc. U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, No. 21-cv-07682, 2022)
Prisons. Four inmates reached a settlement with the District of Columbia Department of Corrections, which would require the district’s jail to ensure detainees’ health.
In the suit, the plaintiffs alleged that former Department Director Tom Faust and Prison Warden Wanda Patten failed to protect them from COVID-19 exposure while residing at the Central Detention Facility and Correctional Treatment Facility of the DC Department of Corrections.
The settlement, which at the time of Security Management’s deadline was not finalized by the court, would ensure safer conditions for residents of Department of Corrections facilities, including access to cleaning supplies, hygiene materials, and medical care. It would also end accusations of and investigations into the purported mistreatment of inmates in this facility, which included long delays in delivering medical care to inmates and a lack of cleaning and sanitizing agents and face masks for staff. (Banks v. Booth, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 20-cv-00849, 2022)
Discrimination. A medical laboratory based in Kentucky must pay a former employee $450,000 after the man’s supervisor failed to heed a request to not throw the man an office birthday party in 2019.
Kevin Berling was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that sometimes results in panic attacks. His panic attacks are linked to celebrating his birthday, which he associates with bad memories of his parents’ divorce. Berling notified his supervisor at Gravity Diagnostics that he did not want to celebrate his birthday, but he did not disclose that it could trigger a panic attack.
The request was not shared with other employees, who celebrated Berling’s birthday with a banner and a party in the break room. Berling quickly left the office and had a panic attack in his car for roughly 45 minutes.
In a later meeting with supervisors, Berling tried to explain his panic attack; however, during the meeting, he began to experience another panic attack and used self-coping mechanisms to calm himself down. Unfortunately, the other employees became afraid of Berling and said they felt unsafe, according to a court filing. In response to his behavior, the supervisors sent him home for the rest of the day, took his key fob, and notified him via email three days later that he was fired.
Berling filed suit, claiming Gravity Diagnostics engaged in disability discrimination and retaliation for firing him. Jurors agreed and awarded him $150,000 in lost wages and benefits, with another $300,000 awarded for suffering and embarrassment. (Kevin Berling v. Gravity Diagnostics, LLC, Kentucky Kenton Circuit Court, No. 19-ci-1631, 2022)
Fraud. The Federal Court ordered an Australian banking and capital management company to pay approximately $113 million AUD ($79 million USD) in fines for several breaches related to compliance failures and serious misconduct.
The court found the Westpac Banking Corporation guilty in six separate civil cases, which accused the company of duplicating insurance policies for more than 7,000 clients for the same property, failing to properly disclose contribution fees totaling $10.6 million AUD ($7.4 million USD) for financial advice to at least 25,000 retail customers, failing to close approximately 21,000 deregistered company accounts and continuing to charge those accounts fees, selling consumer credit card and debt to debt purchasers with interest rates higher than what was contractually allowed, and improperly charging subsidiary clients commission payments even though such payments are banned. Westpac was fined $40 million AUD ($28 million USD) for charging more than $10.9 million AUD ($7.6 million USD) in advice fees to more than 11,800 deceased customers for a decade. The activities affected more than 70,000 clients in all.
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The Australian Securities Investments Commission (ASIC), the country’s corporate watchdog agency, filed the cases in November 2021 after investigating Westpac’s practices, including banking, superannuation, wealth management, and insurance.
The corporation admitted to the allegations in every case and said it would provide more than $80 million AUD ($56 million USD) in remediation to its customers. (Australian Securities and Investments Commission v. Westpac Banking Corporation et al., Federal Court of Australia District of New South Wales, No. NSD1241/2021 et al., 2022)
Background checks. After a four-year effort, the United Kingdom enacted a law that creates new avenues for information sharing between local authorities about taxi drivers.
The Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding a Road Safety) Act 2022—also known as Sian’s Law after Sian O’Callaghan, who was murdered by a taxi driver in 2011—forces councils to tighten checks on drivers for a taxi or private hire vehicle (PHV). The law received Royal Assent on 31 March 2022.
The law aims to close a loophole that some drivers have used to continue driving after losing a taxi or PHV license in one area by applying for a license in another area without disclosing his or her history.
Under the new law, licensing authorities must sift through background information on drivers applying for taxi or PHV licenses in the authority’s respective region.
Licensing authorities must also maintain a record of licensing decisions, including suspensions of a driver’s license and “relevant information” on why a license was suspended. Specific to the law, that relevant information could include a sexual offense, harassment, or physically or psychologically hurting another person.
Corruption. The United Kingdom enacted a law to target and crack down on money laundering by banks, leaders, and oligarchs shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022, which received Royal Assent on 14 March, created a new registry of overseas entities that own property in the United Kingdom. Any foreign owner must verify and declare his or her identity with the government registrar, Companies House; previously he or she may have listed a company as the owner of a property.
The law also applies retroactively, including to English or Welsh properties that were purchased up to 20 years ago by an overseas owner, and for Scottish properties bought since December 2014.
The new law is meant to aid the UK’s National Crime Agency’s efforts against corruption. It includes provisions to support the use of Unexplained Wealth Orders, which were created in January 2018 to address instances where money suspected to be the proceeds of illicit means was invested in UK property, giving law enforcement additional time to investigate and protecting agencies from hefty legal fees if reasonable cases are not successfully prosecuted.
Border patrol. U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law legislation (P.L. 117-113) to increase the retention and recruitment of the country’s only Native American tracking unit in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The tactical patrol unit—reclassified and now able to operate as plain-clothed federal investigators with the authority to carry firearms, perform searches and seizures, and make arrests—is commonly known as “Shadow Wolves,” operating on Tohono O’odham Nation lands in southern Arizona.
Drug trade. A Taliban spokesperson announced a ban on the cultivation of narcotics—including the growth and harvest of poppy flowers—in Afghanistan, which historically is the biggest producer of opium in the world.
The ban is supported by the supreme leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Hibatullah Akhundzada. Along with poppies, all other narcotics are banned, including alcohol, heroin, and hashish. Anyone found violating the ban faces incarceration, and the offending crops will be destroyed.
The Taliban banned poppy growing in 2000 when it controlled Afghanistan prior to the United States and its allies invading the country in 2001.
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Security measures. Ireland’s Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) fined Facebook parent company Meta €17 million (approximately $18.6 million) for failing to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Facebook experienced 12 separate breaches in a six-month period in 2018. One of those breaches exposed 7 million users’ private photos to developers for more than a week, while another exposed personal information associated with 30 million Facebook accounts.
“The DPC found that Meta Platforms failed to have in place appropriate technical and organizational measures which would enable it to readily demonstrate the security measures that it implemented in practice to protect EU users’ data, in the context of the 12 personal data breaches,” the commission said.