Activision’s Great Deal

Activision Blizzard, Inc., the publisher of popular video games, allegedly tolerated a “frat boy” culture for years.

California’s Dept. of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit in 2021 alleging Activision executives knew about and failed to stop pervasive sexual harassment and then retaliated against women who complained.

But that lawsuit was effectively blitzed by an $18 million settlement approved this week by U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer.

The settlement between Activision and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires Activision to pay $18 million and to hire a neutral equal opportunity consultant.

Activision, a Santa Monica company that publishes games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, earned about $8.8 billion dollars in 2021. It is ranked #373 on the Fortune 1000 Revenue Rank. The settlement amount, $18 million, is approximately 0.02 percent of the company’s annual earnings.

An $18 million settlement is a mere nuisance to the biggest producer of video games in the world. It is the proverbial slap on the wrist.

For example, a Los Angeles County jury assessed a $58.2 million verdict against entertainment executive Alki David of Hologram USA, Inc. for a sexual abuse of a female production assistant in 2019.

Judge Fischer said any claimant to the EEOC settlement must waive their right to pursue the DFEH lawsuit. So, it’s a bird in the hand kind of thing. Take the money now or take a chance (however small) of getting a higher amount in the future.

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International Cisgender Day?

It may be time to rename International Women’s Day, which was organized in 1909 to commemorate the cultural, political and socioeconomic achievements of women.

Face it. The term “women” has fallen into disfavor. It’s discriminatory.

According to the ACLU, the term “women” isn’t gender neutral.

Women today must be called “cisgender” or “people with a gender that aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.”

Don’t dare to question the innate femaleness of a male who identifies as a woman. She also can compete on a collegiate woman’s swim team, even if her 6-foot, four-inch body towers over her biological female counterparts. And she can use the locker room if she has not undergone sex reassignment surgery. She is a woman.

Birthing Person?

Along with the term “women,” it appears the term “mother” also is going the way of fireman and actress.

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A Primer On How Employers Can Exempt Themselves From Civil Rights Laws

What are the chances employers will hire job applicants who opt-out of a “voluntary” clause that requires them to forgo their right to file a lawsuit if they are subject to future civil rights violations?

Lori Burchett thought the odds were not good when she applied to work as a “My Stylist” at a Macy’s Inc. store at Oak Brook Center in Illinois in 2017.  In any case, she didn’t want to gamble. She needed a job.

Burchett, then 58, agreed to something that was clearly not in her best interests, a clause requiring her to submit to arbitration any future claims of employment discrimination based on age, gender and race.

In the following months, Burchett alleges she encountered gross age discrimination from managers and coworkers that led to her termination by Macy’s in 2018.  

U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman earlier this month dismissed Burchett’s age discrimination lawsuit and granted Macy’s motion to compel arbitration in the case.

Judge Coleman notes that Burchett, who represented herself, “contends that Macy’s would not have hired her if she did not sign the arbitration agreement.”

But Judge Coleman said Macy’s legal team provided “painstakingly detailed evidence and averments” that Burchett was informed in advance of hire that she could opt-out of the  arbitration clause.

“Without proof to the contrary, courts will not presume that arbitration is unfair or biased, especially in light of federal policy favoring arbitration,” ruled Judge Coleman.

Apparently, Burchett’s “averments” did not constitute evidence or proof to the contrary.

The implications of Judge Coleman’s ruling is that employers can easily exempt themselves from being sued in federal courts for future violations of U.S. civil rights laws simply by asking job applicants to sign a “voluntary” arbitration clause in an employment agreement.

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U.S. Appeals Court Says It’s No Longer Enough to “Merely” Claim A Candidate Is More Qualified

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has adopted a set of legal principles to assess a notoriously thorny issue in discrimination law – the role of “qualifications” in hiring and promotions.

Henceforth, the court held, it is no longer sufficient for an employer to defend a charge of discrimination by merely stating it hired the ‘best qualified’ applicant.

Employers must “articulate specific reasons for that applicant’s qualifications such as ‘seniority, length of service in the same position, personal characteristics, general education, technical training, experience in comparable work or any combination’ of such criteria,” the court ruled.

The D.C. circuit adopted a test that was initially enunciated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and has also been adopted by federal courts of appeal in the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh circuits. The test is intended to prevent employers from circumventing federal discrimination laws by asserting vague subjective criteria that a plaintiff cannot rebut.

Pro Se Litigant

The ruling came in a case filed by Richard A. Figueroa, formerly a Hispanic foreign service officer, who alleged he was a victim of intentional national-origin discrimination by the U.S. Department of State in Puerto Rico when he was denied promotion, and accompanying pay hikes, from 2001 to 2009.

A lower court judge dismissed Figueroa’s pro se lawsuit after the state department argued “that the candidates who were promoted were better qualified.”

The appeals court reinstated Figueroa’s claim of intentional discrimination claim after finding the state department had failed to offer “clear and reasonably specific” evidence to support its claim that other candidates were more qualified.

The court said subjective standards may constitute a legitimate reason for non-promotion but “we also perceive an intolerable risk that a nefarious employer will use them as a cover for discrimination.” The court noted that Plaintiffs “lack the resources (and the clairvoyance) to guess at how their respective decision-makers interpreted the criteria and to explain away each standard at trial.”

Additionally, the court said it doubted that a  “reasonable jury would accept a vague and slippery explanation.”

The appeals court said the State Department set forth a list of promotional criteria – almost all of which was subjective – to justify its failure to promote Figueroa.  The department also provided “declarations” from managers stating they followed the criteria in considering Figueroa’s file.

The court examined a case where a white employee was chosen over a black employee who was deemed less qualified. The court said such a decision could be justified if a hiring panel found both equally qualified in several criteria but the white worker had better scores in management, leadership, sales or knowledge of the customer-service process.

The appeal court notes that a  Plaintiff in a discrimination lawsuit typically has to rebut an employer’s so-called legitimate non-discriminatory reason for its employment action. The Court said employers must present evidence that is sufficient to provide the employee with a full and fair opportunity for rebuttal.

“When the reason involves subjective criteria, the evidence must provide fair notice as to how the employer applied the standards to the employee’s own circumstances. Failing to provide such detail – that is, offering a vague reason – is the equivalent of offering no reason at all,” the appeals court concluded.

The case is Richard A. Figueroa v. Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary, U.S. Department of State, No. 1: 16-cv-00649 (May 10, 2019).

Pregnant Workers Entitled to Reasonable Accommodation

The EEOC has issued an enforcement guidance that makes it clear that an employer must make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers who experience a medical need for a temporary change at work.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) states that an employer may not discriminate against an employee on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.  However, many employers took the position that it did not require them to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. For example, if a pregnant worker’s job required her to stand for long periods, the employer would fire the worker if she was temporarily unable to do so rather than provide her with a chair.

Pregnant workers were treated like second-class citizens compared to workers who were injured or disabled. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) clearly states that employers must make reasonable accommodations for individuals who are injured or  disabled.

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