A proposed $18 million settlement in a lawsuit between Activision Blizzard and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission appeared to go off the rails in October when California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which is pursuing its own action against Activision Blizzard, filed an objection against it. The DFEH said the settlement could lead to the "effective destruction" of critical evidence and cause "irreparable harm" to its own case against the publisher.
Bloomberg Law reported last week that the judge in the case said she would reject the DFEH request for intervention, and now the decision has been made official. In a ruling issued yesterday, the court said the DFEH's claim of "protecting the interests of California and its workers" is too broad and would enable it to intervene in almost any employment-related case in the state, while its concern about the destruction of evidence is "at best, speculative."
"This case will also not, as a practical matter, impair or impede DFEH's ability to protect its interests," US district judge Dale S. Fischer wrote. "Aside from the speculative evidence destruction argument, the proposed consent decree will not, and could not, affect DFEH's ongoing litigation against Defendants. And even if DFEH had some interest in ensuring that the proposed claims process for individuals provided adequate and just compensation, nothing in the consent decree would appear to prevent DFEH from reaching a separate agreement with Defendants in its own case to supplement the recovery to individuals who choose to take part in the claims process."
In other words, accepting a payment out of the EEOC settlement will not prevent individuals from also participating in the state-level DFEH claim against Activision Blizzard.
This isn't necessarily the end of the road for the DFEH's efforts. The court determined that while "formal intervention" is not appropriate, there's enough of a "general public interest" that it will be allowed to present its position through an amicus brief instead. An amicus brief is a filing made by a "friend of the court"—someone who isn't directly involved in a case but has relevant expertise or opinions that can help guide the court to a decision. That means that even though the DFEH's request to intervene in the case has been rejected, "its concerns can be expressed... and will be considered by the Court."
The DFEH was also told to keep its contribution to the case "succinct," which in this case means no more than 15 pages. The submission could carry real weight, though: The proposed settlement between Activision Blizzard and the EEOC hasn't been approved yet, and that the ruling invites continued participation from the DFEH suggests to me that the court thinks its concerns are at least worth consideration.
Activision Blizzard expressed confidence that the ruling will clear the way for final approval of the settlement, however. "The agreement we reached with the EEOC reflects Activision’s commitment to significant improvements and transparency," a representative told PC Gamer in an email. "We remain optimistic that it will be approved by the Court soon, making immediate compensation available to eligible employees who choose to participate."
I've reached out to the DFEH for comment and will update if I receive a reply.