Activision Adds Legal Staff Amid Labor Fight, Microsoft Deal (1) – Bloomberg Law

By Brian Baxter
Activision Blizzard Inc., a video game holding company hoping to close next year on its $69 billion sale to Microsoft Corp., has appointed three lawyers to labor and employment-focused positions and named a new general counsel for subsidiary Blizzard Entertainment Inc.
The company promoted Caroline Elkin, its chief privacy officer, in July to the additional role of chief labor counsel. Activision the same month hired Jeannie Bohlman from Zillow Group Inc. as vice president of employment law and in June added Erin Rowin from UBS AG to serve as vice president for employee relations.
The personnel changes come as the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company copes with a unionization drive in the gaming industry, as well as lawsuits alleging gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
The company defeated a derivative lawsuit in May accusing Activision’s leadership of failing to take action against claims that it allowed a culture of sexism. In March, the company reached an $18 million settlement with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to resolve similar allegations.
Activision has taken steps over the past few months to make itself more worker-friendly as company employees have banded together to demand an end to certain practices, such as mandatory arbitration agreements.
A spokesman for Activision said the company “recently aligned responsibilities and staffing to best meet internal needs.”
Activision hired former Boeing Co. general counsel Grant Dixton last year to be its chief legal officer. Dixton took over from the company’s longtime legal chief, Christopher Walther, who retired. Activision hired Walther in 2009 following its merger with Vivendi Games.
Rowin works within the company’s human resources department, not its legal group, Activision said. She joined the company after serving as an executive director and Americas’ head of employee relations and human resources investigations at UBS.
Blizzard Entertainment, an Irvine, Calif.-based video game developer and publisher acquired by Activision as part of its Vivendi deal in 2008, named Mary Tuck to be its new general counsel in June. Tuck has worked at Activision since 2006.
Claire Hart, Blizzard’s former top lawyer, stepped down last year to become general counsel for Genies Inc., a Los Angeles-based avatar technology company.
Teresa “Terri” Durham, another veteran Activision in-house attorney who had taken on some of Hart’s duties, remains general counsel for Activision Blizzard.
Activision also confirmed it brought on Jeb Boatman last year as a senior vice president for litigation, regulatory, and public policy law. Boatman joined the company after nearly a decade at Boeing, where the former Williams & Connolly associate held a variety of roles at the aerospace giant.
Dixton, who spent nearly 16 years at Boeing prior to joining Activision last summer, received a total compensation package from the company valued at more than $8.2 million in 2021, per a proxy statement. Activision’s most recent proxy filing shows that Paul Hastings advises the compensation committee of its board, which is chaired by attorney and video game industry executive Brian Kelly.
A shareholder lawsuit filed against Activision earlier this year called out “golden parachute” payments that certain company executives will receive if the sale to Microsoft is completed. Dixton could receive almost $14.8 million following the deal, according to a securities filing.
The largest parachute payment—more than $29 million—is earmarked for Daniel Alegre, a Harvard Law School graduate and longtime Google executive hired by Activision in 2020. Activision gave Alegre, its president and chief operating officer, a pay package valued at nearly $18.7 million in 2021.
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom is advising Activision on the proposed sale to Microsoft, which is being represented by lawyers from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. The deal, expected to close by mid-2023, has presented challenges for labor advocates and attracted the scrutiny of regulators.
Some lawyers, such as former Skadden partner Julia Kazaks, have also left Activision.
The company confirmed the departure this month of Kazaks, Activision’s former executive vice president of legal. Earlier this month she was named general counsel for the Arc Institute, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based nonprofit research organization formed last year that secured $650 million in funding to better understand human diseases.
To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com
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