Former Naughty Dog Employee Says He Was Fired After Filing Sexual Harassment Complaint

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A former employee of the highly-regarded video game development studio Naughty Dog has accused the company of terminating him after he says he filed a complaint that he was sexually harassed by someone else at the studio. In a statement, Naughty Dog says it has no record of these allegations. In conversations with Kotaku, current and former employees say they are shocked and saddened by the entire situation, though they were aware he had a rough time at the company.

David Ballard, an environment artist who worked at Naughty Dog for two different stints between 2009 and 2016, wrote on social media this weekend that he was the victim of sexual harassment by a lead at the Sony-owned PlayStation studio, best known for Uncharted and The Last of Us. Ballard first wrote the statements Friday on his private Facebook, but they did not gain widespread attention until he took to Twitter on Saturday afternoon.

"In late 2015, I was sexually harassed at Naughty Dog by a lead," Ballard wrote. "My work environment became extremely toxic afterward. In February 2016 I had a mental breakdown at work & Sony Playstation HR became involved."

"When I told them about the harassment they ended the call and fired me the next day. They cited the company was moving in a different direction and my job was no longer needed. They tried to silence me by offering $US20,000 ($25,484) if I signed a letter agreeing to the termination as well as to not discuss it with anyone. I declined to sign. I have been unemployed for 17 months since."

Ballard added that he felt empowered to speak up because "of the strength I've seen in others coming forward about their experiences in the TV/Film industry," a reference to several recent stories about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and his long history of alleged sexual harassment, rape, and other horrid behaviour.

Dozens of women have spoken out in recent days about Weinstein and other alleged harassers in Hollywood, and both men and women have shared their own stories on social media, most recently under the hashtag "Me Too."

On Sunday morning, Naughty Dog and its parent company, Sony, sent out a joint statement saying they were unaware of Ballard's sexual harassment claim:

We have recently read on social media that an ex-employee of Naughty Dog, Dave Ballard, claims he was sexually harassed when he worked at Naughty Dog. We have not found any evidence ofhaving received allegations from Mr. Ballard that he was harassed in any way at Naughty Dog or Sony Interactive Entertainment. Harassment and inappropriate conduct have no place at Naughty Dog and Sony Interactive Entertainment.

We have taken and always will take reports of sexual harassment and other workplace grievances very seriously. We value every single person who works at Naughty Dog and Sony Interactive Entertainment. It is of utmost importance to us that we maintain a safe, productive workplace environment that allows us all to channel our shared passion for making games.

Ballard has not responded to multiple messages by Kotaku via phone and email seeking more details on his allegations and reaction to Naughty Dog and Sony's statement.

Three current and former Naughty Dog employees, all speaking under condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardise their careers, all said they had not heard anything about Ballard's sexual harassment allegations until this weekend and that they were disturbed by the news.

Those employees said they did not know or want to speculate who the alleged sexual harasser may be. Each discipline at the studio typically has two leads, and by one estimate there are around two dozen at Naughty Dog.

One current Naughty Dog employee said that he and co-workers he spoke to were "blind-sided" by the news, and that while he believed Ballard's allegations, he also believed that the studio had been unaware of them.

"There definitely is not a culture of covering up bad behaviour," that person said. "I and quite a lot of other people wouldn't be here if there was."

It was clear to Ballard's co-workers that he was upset during his final months at Naughty Dog, those three sources said, and they said his self-acknowledged mental breakdown was clear to everyone at the studio.

But people who worked with Ballard said they had thought it was the result of Naughty Dog's long hours and high-pressure culture.

Ballard worked at Naughty Dog in Los Angeles from around February 2009 to around August 2014 before leaving for San Francisco, where he briefly took a job at Ubisoft, per his online resume and co-workers.

In the spring of 2015, he returned to Naughty Dog. One person who worked with Ballard said that the difficulties began then, and that Ballard had told people he was filing HR complaints, although to that person's knowledge, those complaints were not about sexual harassment but about other issues.

Ballard had said he felt harassed for leaving and then returning to the studio, that person said. The person added that they did not know about the sexual harassment allegations until Ballard posted them on Facebook last weekend.

In early 2016, the situation worsened, and Naughty Dog employees confirm that, as Ballard said on Twitter, he had a difficult mental breakdown. Some of Ballard's troubles became more widely known in late February of that year after he sent a hostile email to a tech artist that was CCed to everyone at the company, two people said.

Various rumours circulated at the studio and the situation was escalated from Naughty Dog's internal human resources department to Sony's HR.

"This is the hardest thing I've ever done," Ballard wrote on Twitter Saturday. "I will not let anyone kill my drive or love for the video game industry, my passions or life." He has not said anything else publicly since.


Comments

    HR exists to protect the company, not the employees. Of course there is 'no record'. They are not going to air any dirty laundry to the press.

      Everyone in the comments need to read and take this to heart.

      I came here to make this comment.

      Do you honestly think your company has a person or people totally dedicated to your happiness and satisfaction?

      Or are they there to protect the company from you?

      My honest advice, if you find yourself in any kind of situation, call citizens advice and have your call logged, call or email a lawyer even with a simple enquiry as to services email. It's all proof that you said something happened.

        I can only speak from my experience but I have worked in many corporate environments and if even a hint of sexual harassment accusations are raised, it is taken very seriously by HR and documented accordingly. There have been many terminations as a result. There are significant penalties and loss of brand reputation on the line for businesses to try to sweep things under a rug and hope the victim doesn't have any evidence of making a complaint. I can't speak for all companies obviously but this has been my experience.

          Of course it's taken seriously, it can leave the company open to a massive lawsuit if nothing it done. Gotta protect the company.

            It's also a legal requirement. Workplaces must have policies in place to handle sexual harrassment complaints.

        This is a really poor, misdirected comment and ultimately very bad advice

        An employee should ALWAYS log a complaint with their HR department and ensure they get a case ID or assignment email. Its poor practice and terrible advice to suggest otherwise

        Have you ever worked in a corporate environment?

          Yeah I think many women have a much different opinion of what HR is for, and that is through experience. If a particular HR is on your side, bully for you. But this is not always the case.

    All a bit suss if you ask me. Sounds more like a disgruntled employee? Of course just speculation, but his silence now sorta speaks volumes.

      Accusations need to be backed by a little bit of evidence, such as the formal complaint he made, or even some form of proof of the $20k payoff. I had one woman accuse me of intending to do horrible things to her, and when I showed our circle of friends actual messages of her harassing me and making me uncomfortable she was immediately ignored. Some people try to take advantage of playing the victim which honestly is horrible and can ruin innocent peoples lives, I know I was freaking out, losing sleep and struggling to keep my appetite. It honestly does way more harm to real victims of sexual harassment as they're going through enough as it is and can be difficult to step forward and bring to light what is happening to them

        Absolutely, we need to be equally aware of the harm false accusations can have. Sorry you had to go through that.

          Yeah I think it was a weird sort of revenge for her to take it out on me when I rejected her advances. It's like when you read those text conversations where the guys sends a girl texts asking to date, she declines and he then calls her a fat and ugly. An immature response in order to make themselves feel like a better person and make the other feel terrible for rejecting them

        Evidence isn't always possible, One doesn't always keep documentation of something they'd rather forget, Yes email are possible but the guy doesn't need to prove anything to us as we aren't the authorities.

          but the guy doesn't need to prove anything to us as we aren't the authorities

          If he's making a statement like this without any kind of proof are we expected to believe him? Do we jump right to "guilty until proven innocent" for the people he's accusing? I understand that people like to see this as David vs Goliath with a downtrodden peon fighting against a giant, unfeeling monster corporation, but in reality this is one human being accusing another human being of doing something without providing any proof at all.

          Where does the line between "support the victim" and "innocent until proven guilty" lie?

            I'm not advocating for him, I never said he was telling the truth, I was implying that we who don't know the facts, Shouldn't be jumping to conclusions & laying blame, I don't own a pitch fork or belong to a mob.

            The answer is, don't jump to either conclusion. Listen to his accusations, and keep an open mind that they may be true or they may not. Wait patiently for more information to come to light before making a judgement call.
            Similarly, if you're in a jury, when you first hear the case being presented, you aren't required to immediately state 'innocent' or 'guilty', you wait for any evidence to be presented first.
            This story only broke two days ago, he is probably being inundated with calls/messages from family, friends, ex-colleagues and journalists, as well as the inevitable influx of private messages on twitter of people supporting and demonising him.

            I'm sure in time, he will provide more information. Until that point, why do you need to have stance on the issue? There is no need to say anything negative about him or ND/Sony at the moment, just wait.

      Talking about sexual violence isn't easy, Maybe he doesn't want his private life blazoned across every gaming publication & news site more than it is. Jumping to conclusions only serve to create problems obviously .

      It could possibly be. It might not be. The article gives me the impression that it is questionable, yet reading his own tweets is more convincing.

      We don't have to decide what we think the truth is for sure. Even if we decide either way, its just a guess really. We often fool ourselves into thinking we "know" something we can;t possibly know.

      The best policy is to support the victim and allow the truth to be investigated.

    It's a bummer to see both on here and on the original twitter post the percentage of posts putting doubt on the victim. The under-reporting of sexual assault is astonishingly high, and the best way to combat that is to believe people when they come forward. You don't have to raise the pitchforks at either Sony or Naughty Dog, we currently have no idea who was involved or knew about what happened. Just believe people when they come forward, every time you question them, it makes it harder for the next person to step forward.

    What he posted took more strength than what I probably would have and I hope that Sony/ Naughty Dog do the right thing and take this seriously by fully investigating this and offering him any support he requires.

    Came here to see the usual suspects casting blame on the victim, leaving unsurprised.

    'BUT WHY DOESN'T HE HAVE ANY RECORDS???? SOUNDS SUSS LOL DISGRUNTLED EMPLOYEE'

    Well, since you can't read, I'll do it for you.

    He rang Sony to MAKE the complaint. They hung up on him before it was lodged and fired him immediately. The $20k offer was most likely made over the phone, as they would not be stupid enough to hand him that kind of physical evidence until he had agreed.

    It's almost impossible to get 'evidence' of workplace harassment if the organisation doesn't want to provide it or doesn't have a culture of openness and accountability.

    This happens everywhere, every day. I've seen it happen dozens of times.

    I'm not saying he's telling the truth. But the people here claiming his story lacks consistency need to shush up.

      Quite frankly we all need to shush up.

      We lack the knowledge and evidence to make any practical comment on this situation or defend/condemn any party.
      Our past personal experiences can legitimise either choice but shouldn't.

      Absolutely. Sony would not be dumb enough to hand him that sort of information in writing, because that would create hard evidence. If it's all done verbally (e.g. over the phone) it becomes a case of "he said, she said etc." and who's word people will believe.

        You don't wait for them to hand you anything, you send an official complaint to HR via email. (Use or tag a personal email also)
        It's done that way to ensure these situations don't happen and the the person laying the complaint is protected.

      And yet you downvoted me above when I made the same statement - which was earnest if somewhat baited to draw out double standards.

      Honestly the tone of this article (and some comments) stands in stark contrast to something like when Max Temkin was accused of sexual assaults by a random person with nil evidence. Cue trial by social media. If doubting claims wasn't appropriate then, then it isn't now either.

        'The bait is so easily taken.'

        Yeah, doesn't sound too earnest, especially when the second part of your post here confirms your intent, as does your high fiving with other negative commenters.

        You shouldn't try and play the victim card if people interpret your allegedly earnest comment negatively - as your posting history is basically non-stop negative conservative-leaning judgment.

        Playing the retrospective 'JUST KIDDING' card doesn't work either.

          You do realise you downvoted before my bait comment, right? As in you instantly assumed that I was being insincere and thus downvoted purely because I made the comment. I haven't "high fived" any negative posters here, so I don't know what you're on about with that. You just seem to be on some sort of hate campaign against anything I post, even if I post the exact same opinion.

            So you're upset that I correctly guessed your motivation based on the consistency of your previous behaviour?

            Maybe if you don't want to be perceived as a judgmental hard right-winger you shouldn't act like one?

            There's no hate campaign, you regularly post objectionable, regressive material so I downvote it. Start posting, god forbid, progressive material, I will upvote it. It's not hard to understand.

              Lol, I'm centrist, but whatever.

                Funny thing is, every single person who feels the need to proclaim they are a 'centrist' is always a conservative without the guts to back their own beliefs.

                That's because:

                a) Real centrists don't need to proclaim it, since their views are self evidently central;
                b) Real centrists don't post the non-stop streams of right wing garbage you do.

                So your sum total contribution here was being smarmy about victims of bullying and then trying to weasel out when called on it.

                Good job mate.

                  Funny thing is, I can identify with whatever part of the political spectrum I choose and you can't tell me otherwise, and if all I ever post is "right wing garbage" then maybe you're just having a hard time viewing it from your myopic "progressive" perspective. One man's centre is another's far right - and apparently for you, anything that doesn't conform to your politics is far right.

                  You just decided to twist what I was saying - like I knew you would - and interpret it as sarcasm. In other words, you couldn't care less about what was said, but rather who said it. Good job, mate.

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