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Activision employee suicide was spurred by workplace harassment, lawsuit says

Activision's publishing HQ in Santa Monica, California.
Enlarge / Activision’s publishing HQ in Santa Monica, California.

The parents of former Activision employee Kerri Moynihan have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, alleging that the harassment she suffered working at the company contributed to her 2017 suicide at a corporate retreat.

The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, which was filed Thursday and was initially reported by The Washington Post, alleges that the hostile work environment Moynihan was subjected to during her time at the Activision finance department contributed to her untimely death in 2017 at age 32. That death, which the lawsuit says was ruled a suicide by the Orange County coroner, came during an Activision company retreat at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.

The new lawsuit quotes heavily from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit filed against Activision last July. That earlier suit is used to establish that the company “fostered and permitted a sexually hostile work environment to exist in which female employees were routinely sexually harassed, belittled, disparaged, and discriminated against, and Activision failed and refused to take corrective action or reasonable steps to prevent that harassment.”

While Moynihan is not mentioned by name in the DFEH suit, the new lawsuit brought by her parents suggests that one anonymous story shared by the DFEH describes their daughter’s experience (warning, graphic content):

In a tragic example of the harassment that Defendants allowed to fester in their offices, a female employee committed suicide while on a company trip due to a sexual relationship that she had been having with her male supervisor… Another employee confirmed that the deceased female employee may have been suffering from other sexual harassment at work prior to her death. Specifically, at a holiday party before her death, male co-workers passed around a picture of the deceased’s vagina.

Moynihan’s parents say in the suit that they were not aware of the alleged harassment their daughter faced until the DFEH suit was made public last year.

“We are sickened by the reprehensible conduct of the DFEH to drag into the complaint the tragic suicide of an employee whose passing has no bearing whatsoever on this case and with no regard for her grieving family,” Activision Blizzard said in a statement issued shortly after the DFEH lawsuit became public last summer.

A relationship “against company policy”

The “male supervisor” cited in that DFEH story, according to the new lawsuit, is Greg Restituito, who worked as a senior finance director for Activision at the time of Moynihan’s death, according to his LinkedIn profile. Restituito, who was “married and had a newborn son,” according to the lawsuit, allegedly started a sexual relationship with Moynihan in the fall of 2016—a relationship with a subordinate that the lawsuit suggests was “contrary to Activision policy.”

Restituito’s one-year tenure at the company ended in May 2017, according to his LinkedIn profile, just weeks after Moynihan’s death. During the investigation into her death, Restituito allegedly initially lied about his relationship with Moynihan until admitting to it during a second interview with police. Restituito did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Over the course of that police investigation, which the lawsuit calls “perfunctory and incomplete,” Activision allegedly “refused to turn over Kerri’s work-issued laptop to the LAPD, refused to give them access to Restituito’s work-issued laptop, refused to give them access to Restituito’s work-issued cell phone, and told the police that Restituito’s cell phone had been ‘wiped.'”

Further, the suit alleges that Activision’s “failure to take immediate, suitable, and effective corrective action and/or all reasonable steps to prevent that workplace sexual harassment” was “a substantial factor in causing harm to Kerri, including, without limitation, humiliation, embarrassment, belittlement, sadness, discomfort, emotional distress, mental anguish, and pain and suffering, all to her detriment and damage, tragically culminating in Kerri’s death at the age of 32.”

In a statement provided to The Washington Post, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said the company is “deeply saddened by the tragic death of Ms. Moynihan, who was a valued member of the company. We will address the complaint through the legal process as appropriate, and out of respect for the family, we have no further comment at this time.”

The lawsuit adds to the legal and reputational pressure on Activision growing out of the DFEH lawsuit, which has sparked a class-action complaint from shareholders, an SEC probe, and a request for change from multiple state treasurers. It also comes as Activision prepares for a $68.7 billion acquisition by Microsoft, which could provide a “graceful exit” for beleaguered Activision CEO Bobby Kotick.

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