“Netflix unapologetically recruits talent without regard to its ethical and legal obligations,” declares the complaint filed by the home of Call of Duty against Netflix for wooing Activision chief financial officer Spencer Neumann in late 2018 to eventually become the streamer’s top finance guy.
“To shape its workforce to its desires, Netflix not only ruthlessly fires its own employees that it deems ‘adequate,’ but is engaged in a years-long campaign of unlawfully poaching executives from Netflix’s competitors regardless of their contractual obligations,” adds the lean three-claim suit filed this morning in Los Angeles Superior Court (Read it here).
Now, if any of this jury-trial seeking move sounds familiar, that’s because you have heard it before. Twice before, actually.
Perhaps to make matters more damning in this case, at least in the plaintiff’s POV, Netflix pulled former Disney exec Neumann over to their side as Activision was “negotiating with Netflix over a commercial partnership to distribute Activision’s linear media content,” according to the 13-page document.
Pink-slipped for cause (aka his dalliance with the streamer) in late 2018 after just over a year and a half as Activision’s CFO and with more than two years left on his contract, Neumann was named Netflix’s CFO in January 2019. Obviously, there have been a number of corner-office exits at Netflix in the past few months, but Neumann is still there overseeing the numbers. Even more so, the debt-laden company is plugging in further to the lucrative video game market with the likes of Stranger Things 3: The Game.
Seeking injunctive relief and widespread damages, today’s lawsuit from deep-pocketed Activision comes almost a year after Netflix came up short in its long court battle with now Disney-owned Fox over poaching two of the latter’s team back in 2016. Facing similar legal action from ViacomCBS over similar executive snatching, Netflix recently sought to appeal the Fox decision.
Netflix did not respond to request for comment from Deadline on this latest lawsuit. We will of course update with its response if and when we get it.
More Silicon Valley than Tinseltown in its fundamental mind-set, the Reed Hastings- and Ted Sarandos-run streamer has repeatedly tried to justify its disregard for the Golden State’s employment statutes and the very notion of fixed contracts with proclamations of employee “freedom” against the “Hollywood establishment” – which has an irony of its own now that Netflix is the biggest player in town.
Or, as Activision’s O’Melveny & Myers attorneys snarl in this latest complaint: “Netflix’s unlawful conduct is not trailblazing or innovative—it is just reflective of Netflix’s contempt for the law of the State of California.”
“Netflix intentionally and substantially induced, assisted, and encouraged Neumann to breach his fiduciary duties by recruiting him and offering him employment with Netflix and agreeing to indemnify Neumann for any claims against him arising from his breach of the Neumann Agreement and/or his fiduciary duties,” lawyers Daniel Petrocelli, Molly Lens and Eric Amdursky says in the complaint.
That last bit is especially worth keeping in mind. In many ways, it is the crux of Activision’s lawsuit.
In that promise of indemnity, there’s the presumption that Netflix knew its alleged poaching of Neumann before his contact expired in 2021 would be problematic. In fact, putting legal protection money on the table, it appears to know for sure that a legal mushroom cloud would be set off. “Indeed, Hastings, Netflix’s co-CEO, was personally involved in Neumann’s recruitment and hiring, evidencing that Netflix’s tortious and unethical conduct is intentional and a directive ‘from the top,’” today’s filing asserts further.
Or to dredge up a quote from Gen. Omar Bradley that pops up in the Call of Duty franchise: “In war, there is no prize for the runner-up”
BTW – you may have noticed that the actions of Netflix and the battle itself isn’t the only aspect of all this that seems like a blast from the courtroom past. O’Melveny & Myers’ Petrocelli and Lens were outside counsel for Fox in their beatdown of Netflix last year.
Clearly, Activision Blizzard knows a thing or two about the first-person shooter game, if you know what I mean?