In recent years, allegations of workplace harassment, discrimination and toxic management have rocked countless video game companies, and now massive Call of Duty and World of Warcraft publisher Activision Blizzard is being sued by California for allegedly widespread sexual harassment and discrimination against based on gender. Note, Activision Blizzard is not just being sued in California – it is being sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) after a two-year in-depth investigation. As far as I know, this is the highest investigation of this type for a video game company we’ve ever seen.
According to the lawsuit of the DFEH (warning for those sensitive to topics like sexual harassment and suicide – the lawsuit and article below have some graphic details), Activision Blizzard has promoted a “frat boy” culture in which female employees are discriminated against when it comes to “compensation, allocation , Promotion, [and] termination’ and ‘continuous sexual harassment’.
Women make up only about 20 percent of Activision Blizzard’s workforce, earn less than male counterparts in similar positions, and are rarely promoted to top positions in the company. The DFEH cites a number of specific instances of discrimination, including a woman being told that her potential promotion would pose a risk because she could become pregnant.
Various forms of sexual harassment are said to be ubiquitous, with the “frat boy” culture apparently being quite literal, as the DFEH’s lawsuit alleges that male employees would come to work with a hangover, play video games, and speak rudely about women. chatting on the dime of the company. This behavior reportedly includes “cube crawls,” in which “male employees drink large amounts of alcohol as they work their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees.” Most shockingly, the suit alleges that a female employee died by suicide while on a business trip, during which she was harassed by a supervisor. This allegedly followed an incident in which male employees circulated nude photos of the woman during a company party.
The World of Warcraft team is singled out in the suit, with harassment and humiliating behavior said to be endemic. Former WoW creative director Alex Afrasiabi is specifically called out for fostering a toxic environment and has himself been implicated in many cases of harassment. The DFEH claims that Blizzard J. Allen Brack was well aware of Afrasiabi’s behavior but did little to discipline him until he left Blizzard in 2020 (the details of Afrasiabi’s departure are unknown).
Activision Blizzard has released a lengthy statement in response to the DFEH case, in which they accuse the agency of “distorted” […] and false” descriptions and insist that the painted image “isn’t the Blizzard workplace of today.”
We value diversity and strive for a workplace that is inclusive for all. There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry for that matter, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind. We take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases involving misconduct, action has been taken to address the issue.
The DFEH contains distorted and in many cases false descriptions of Blizzard’s past. We cooperated very well with the DFEH during their investigation, including providing extensive data and sufficient documentation, but they refused to inform us of what problems they saw. They were required by law to conduct adequate investigations and to conduct good faith discussions with us to better understand and resolve any claims or concerns before filing a lawsuit, but they did not do so. Instead, they rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court. We are sickened by the DFEH’s reprehensible behavior in bringing the tragic suicide of an employee whose death has no bearing on this case and without regard for her grieving family into the complaint. While we find this behavior disgraceful and unprofessional, unfortunately it is an example of how they behaved during their investigation. It is this kind of irresponsible behavior by irresponsible state bureaucrats that drives many of the best state companies out of California.
The picture that the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today. In recent years and since the start of the initial survey, we have made significant changes to address corporate culture and reflect greater diversity within our leadership teams. We’ve updated our Code of Conduct to emphasize a strict focus on non-retaliation, expanded internal employee reporting programs and channels for violations, including the “QUESTIONNAIRE” with a confidential integrity hotline, and introduced an employee relations team dedicated to investigating concerns. We have strengthened our commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion and combined our global employee networks to provide additional support. Employees must also undergo regular anti-harassment training and have done so for many years.
We go to great lengths to create fair and rewarding compensation packages and policies that reflect our culture and company, and we strive to pay all employees fairly for equal or substantially comparable work. We take several proactive steps to ensure that reward is determined by non-discriminatory factors. For example, we reward and reward employees based on their performance, and we provide extensive anti-discrimination training, including for those who are part of the reward process.
We are confident in our ability to demonstrate our practices as an equal opportunity employer promoting a supportive, diverse and inclusive workplace for our people, and we are committed to continuing this effort in the years to come. It’s a shame the DFEH didn’t want to talk to us about what they thought they saw in their investigation.
It sounds like a controversial lawsuit lies ahead for both the DFEH and Activision Blizzard. In the meantime, countless former Activision Blizzard employees have taken to Twitter to share their stories of discrimination and harassment at the company.
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