Activision Blizzard Sued By California Over Widespread Harassment Of Women [Update]

Activision Blizzard Sued By California Over Widespread Harassment Of Women [Update]
Photo: Rich Polk, Getty Images

Activision Blizzard, the publishing giant behind everything from Call of Duty to Overwatch, is being sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing over a “frat boy” workplace culture that it alleges has led to years of harassment and abuse targeting the women in its workforce.

Content warning: suicide, harassment, rape

Bloomberg reports that the suit, filed on July 20, is the culmination of a two-year investigation into the publisher by the Department, which says that Activision Blizzard’s “compliance with California’s broad workplace protections is long overdue”.

“To enforce such compliance”, the case says, “DFEH brings this government enforcement action seeking to remedy, prevent and deter [Activision Blizzard’s] violations of state’s civil rights and equal pay laws.”

While pointing out the lack of women in leadership positions at the company, and the difficulties they have faced in gaining promotions, the suit also highlights enormous pay discrepancies at the executive level between women and men, and says women are not only promoted more slowly, they’re also terminated “more quickly than their male counterparts”.

The company’s “frat boy” workplace culture is also mentioned, as a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women”. Some of the examples provided include:

In the office, women are subjected to “cube crawls” in which male employees drink copious [amounts] of alcohol as they “crawl” their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behaviour toward female employees. Male employees proudly come into work hungover, play video games for long periods of time during work while delegating their responsibilities to female employees, engage in banter about their sexual encounters, talk openly about female bodies and joke about rape.

Female employees are subjected to constant sexual harassment, including having to continually fend off unwanted sexual comments and advances by their male co-workers and supervisors and being groped at the “cube crawls” and other company events. High-ranking executives and creators engaged in blatant sexual harassment without repercussions.

In a particularly tragic example, a female employee committed suicide during a business trip with a male supervisor who had brought butt plugs and lubricant with him on the trip.

The suit also accuses Activision Blizzard of failing to act on “numerous complaints” concerning harassment, discrimination and retaliation from male colleagues over those complaints, and says employees affected were “further discouraged from complaining as human resource personnel were known to be close to alleged harassers”.

The DFEH has brought the suit seeking an injunction that will force Activision Blizzard to not only begin complying with state workplace laws, but also address “unpaid wages, pay adjustments, back pay, and lost wages and benefits for female employees.”

In January of this year, Activision Blizzard called attempts to make its workplace more diverse “unworkable”.

UPDATE: Activision has responded to the DFEH’s suit with a lengthy statement that calls the DFEH and its suit “irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats”.

We value diversity and strive to foster a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone. There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind. We take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue.

The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past. We have been extremely cooperative with the DFEH throughout their investigation, including providing them with extensive data and ample documentation, but they refused to inform us what issues they perceived. They were required by law to adequately investigate and to have good faith discussions with us to better understand and to resolve any claims or concerns before going to litigation, but they failed to do so. Instead, they rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court. 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. While we find this behaviour to be disgraceful and unprofessional, it is unfortunately an example of how they have conducted themselves throughout the course of their investigation. It is this type of irresponsible behaviour from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.

The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today. Over the past several years and continuing since the initial investigation started, we’ve made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams. We’ve updated our Code of Conduct to emphasize a strict non-retaliation focus, amplified internal programs and channels for employees to report violations, including the “ASK List” with a confidential integrity hotline, and introduced an Employee Relations team dedicated to investigating employee concerns. We have strengthened our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and combined our Employee Networks at a global level, to provide additional support. Employees must also undergo regular anti-harassment training and have done so for many years.

We put tremendous effort in creating fair and rewarding compensation packages and policies that reflect our culture and business, and we strive to pay all employees fairly for equal or substantially similar work. We take a variety of proactive steps to ensure that pay is driven by non-discriminatory factors. For example, we reward and compensate employees based on their performance, and we conduct extensive anti-discrimination trainings including for those who are part of the compensation process.

We are confident in our ability to demonstrate our practices as an equal opportunity employer that fosters a supportive, diverse, and inclusive workplace for our people, and we are committed to continuing this effort in the years to come. It is a shame that the DFEH did not want to engage with us on what they thought they were seeing in their investigation.

Comments

  • Wait, is this referring to the workplace of Activision’s studios or Blizzard’s?
    I think I could understand Call of Duty’s developers being like this but I was under the impression that in recent years Blizzard had been a lot more progressive.

    • “Call of Duty’s developers” is kind of separate from the Publisher. There are different studios who develop different CoDs and are all separate entities from Activision.

    • “Activision Blizzard” is the parent company of “Blizzard Entertainment” but they’re technically distinct entities.

      • And they are *heavily* involved in this harassment and toxic workplace allegations, it turns out. Kinda gross to read about.

    • Two sides to every story. I don’t doubt that Activision Blizzard has put in place a great many measures to address the concerns raised in these examples, but I also have no doubt that all the measures in the world won’t stop the continuation of harassment by certain egocentric individuals at all levels of the company. At a certain point, it’s up to us all as individuals to stamp out harassment, whether targeted at us or at others.

      • Thanks! Re-reading it, since I know you’d just take the text wholesale, they keep saying ‘Blizzard’ not ‘Activision Blizzard’ which would intimate the case hearing is in regards to the Blizzard side. Which is kind of surprising in a ‘not really surprising’ way.

        • The suit clearly references “Activision Blizzard”. Activsions response exclusively referencing “Blizzard” is more about optics than anything I think – it’s a press release not a legal document.

          • But Blizzard Entertainment is heavily implicated, as other reports have made clear. J. Allen Brack was personally named for knowingly allowing the toxic culture to fester and the World of Warcraft team was singled out as being especially horrible.

          • … and a lot of the complaints were about staff behaving at Blizzcon after parties too.

  • Of course there is a rebuttal. No company wants to or will admit fault or say sorry if they can. Protect the company at all costs, to protect the shares price, to protect their bonuses

    But if the government is willing to spend their limited budget going after one of the richest game companies in the world, they must be pretty confident in their evidence.

  • Glad i dropped all of blizzards games after blitzchung. Blizzard certainly has not improved at all since then.

  • With stories like these every other week, I don’t blame women for not wanting to work in the video game industry. I can’t think of any industry I’ve worked in where this would happen without a mass firing of staff.

  • // We’ve updated our Code of Conduct to emphasize a strict non-retaliation focus //
    This is some bullshit. There’s no company on the fucking planet where you can stop retaliation from slimy fucks intent on it.

    They find subtle, indirect ways to retaliate. They always do.

    It’s basically always some bullshit you can never prove, and people think you’re the one making something out of nothing so you have to accept it or quit. It is even easier for them to pull that sort of shit they if they have any sort of authority over you, such as a supervisor.

    Things like suddenly you’ll find yourself doing nothing but things you specifically dislike, while others are volunteering for those tasks and being told “Nah, X can do it.”, etc. All under the guise of them being a boss, supervisor, etc, and ‘just’ delegating work.

    Seen it time and time again. And unfortunately in my experience the kind of people who do this slimy shit only EVER stop when someone actively retaliates and either causes them physical harm or genuine fear for their own well being… But then, you know, that makes the person who’s been getting harassed the ‘bad guy’.

    • Yeah, all this shit is about covering asses by the letter of the law and not the spirit of it.

      “Why didn’t you make a complaint through the official channels, Victim X? Clearly you weren’t interested in an actual resolution, since you didn’t dance like a monkey to our complaints tune.”

      Yeah, Victim X, why didn’t you submit a complaint about PartyA to their best bud PartyB who regularly has lunch with them and socializes with them out of office hours? Why didn’t you make use of the anonymous tip line to report bullying and harrassment about PartyA, when they only have one specific target and will instantly know exactly who it is that the complaint is about?

      I’ve worked in enough corporate environments to know that the bigger companies have plenty of room for rat scumfuck bullies to hide in and that HR policies are specifically designed to protect the company, not employees, to the point that I will never, ever give the ‘benefit of the doubt’ to an HR department who whines about victims of harassment not jumping through their fucking hoops and turning instead to independent arbitrators. There is no true fucking neutrality or independence in an in-house HR process, no matter how much they might protest there is.

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