Activision-Blizzard has dominated headlines in recent weeks after being sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing following a lengthy investigation into the company’s alleged gender discrimination issues.
The suit is littered with claims of recurring sexual harassment, discrimination, lower pay and less opportunities for female employees, and what has been described as a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ culture” all-round.
But as the situation continues to escalate, it can be difficult to keep track, so we’ve put together a timeline of everything we know so far. We’ll be updating this timeline as more details regarding the lawsuit and the allegations emerge.
July 20, 2021 – Lawsuit Filed
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing files a lawsuit against Activision Publishing Inc after a two-year investigation into the alleged discrimination against female employees.
The suit claims Activision Blizzard harbours a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ culture” that includes – but is not limited to – constant sexual harassment, lower pay for female employees and allegedly forcing “many women” to quit.
Additionally, the suit claims male employees were held to a lower standard (being allowed to come into work hungover, delegating work to female peers and openly joking about rape and other inappropriate comments about women).
Perhaps most notably, former Senior Creative Director at World of Warcraft Alex Afrasiabi – who played a major role and was heavily referenced in-game – was accused of “blatant sexual harassment” with no repercussions.
Overall, the culture is described as a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.”
July 21, 2021 – Activision Blizzard Releases A Statement Following Bloomberg Report
Following the lawsuit – and the subsequent Bloomberg report – Activision Blizzard released a lengthy statement calling the DFEH “irresponsible behaviour from unaccountable State bureaucrats.”
The full statement reads as follows:
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 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.
July 22, 2021 – Activision Blizzard President Emails Staff
Activision Blizzard president J. Allen Brack sends an internal email to staff, in which he addresses the lawsuit and allegations, calling them “extremely troubling.”
Blizzard president J. Allen Brack sent out an email to staff last night addressing the allegations from this week's explosive lawsuit, calling them "extremely troubling" and saying that he'd be "meeting with many of you to answer questions and discuss how we can move forward." pic.twitter.com/NsMV6CNdTE
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) July 23, 2021
July 22, 2021 – Fran Townsend Emails Staff
Following Brack’s email, Activision Blizzard executive and former Homeland Security Advisor to George W Bush sends a very different internal email to staff.
“I know this has been difficult for many of us. A recently filed lawsuit presented a distored and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories – some from more than a decade ago,” she wrote.
Activision Blizzard executive Fran Townsend, who was the Homeland Security Advisor to George W. Bush from 2004-2007 and joined Activision in March, sent out a very different kind of email that has some Blizzard employees fuming. pic.twitter.com/BxGeMTuRYF
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) July 23, 2021
July 24, 2021 – Blizzard Co-Founder Admits “I Failed You”
Blizzard co-founder Mike Morhaime takes to Twitter to comment on the situation.
“To the Blizzard women who experienced any of these things, I am extremely sorry that I failed you,” he wrote in a TwitLonger post. “I hear you, I believe you, and I am so sorry to have let you down.”
July 25, 2021 – Production on World of Warcraft Halts
In a lengthy Twitter thread, World of Warcraft Senior System Designer Jeff Hamilton announces that production on the popular MMORPG has halted amid the lawsuit. Hamilton is quick to condemn the company’s statement and asserts that “all allegations of sexual harassment deserve to be taken seriously.”
OK. I’m still hopeful my team will make a statement, but Activision’s statement was terrible, so here's what I believe. I know many of my colleagues believe this as well:
— Jeff Hamilton ???? (@JeffAHamilton) July 25, 2021
July 26 – Activision Blizzard Holds A Meeting With Staff
All staff were invited to a meeting to address the lawsuit and allegations on Monday July 26, 2021. However, as a result of a technical error, only 500 employees were able to enter the Zoom call, according to Uppercut.
July 26, 2021 – Employees Sign An Open Letter Calling The Company’s Response “Abhorrent and Insulting”
More than 1,000 Activision Blizzard employees sign a letter condemning the company’s response to the lawsuit and allegations, calling it “abhorrent and insulting.” Townsend’s email is noted as a catalyst for the move.
“Following the announcement from Activision Blizzard, and in light of the internal memo circulated by Frances Townsend, a group of over 800 employees from across all of Activision-Blizzard-King and its subsidiaries came together to take action,” a representative of the group told Kotaku. “Over the weekend we drafted an open letter to our leadership that is now gathering signatures from across our organisations, and have been working on next steps.”
You can read the letter in full here.
July 27, 2021 – Employees Organise A Walkout
A week after the lawsuit was first filed, Activision Blizzard employees announce they’re organising a walkout on July 28. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent WFH arrangement, the walkout is both physical and virtual.
The organisers release a lengthy statement to Polygon with a list of four key demands.
“Given last week’s statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as the subsequent internal statement from Frances Townsend, and the many stories shared by current and former employees of Activision Blizzard since, we believe that our values as employees are not being accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership,” the statement reads.
“As current Activision Blizzard employees, we are holding a walkout to call on the executive leadership team to work with us on the following demands, in order to improve conditions for employees at the company, especially women, and in particular women of colour and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalised groups.”
July 27, 2021 – Activision Blizzard CEO Apologises For “Tone Deaf” Response
“This has been a difficult and upsetting week,” Kotick says.
“I want to recognise and thank all those who have come forward in the past and in recent days. I so appreciate your courage. Every voice matters – and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future.
“Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf.”
You can read the statement in full here.
July 27, 2021 – Former WoW Designer Apologises For Gross 2010 BlizzCon Answer
Former Blizzard lead designer Greg Street apologises after a clip from a developer Q&A at BlizzCon 2010 went viral.
In the video, a woman asks why nearly all of the women in WoW look like they’ve “stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret catalogue”, to which one of the developers responds joking about picking from “different catalogues.”
Oh god, I'd not seen this before. It's heartbreaking.
Here's a 2010 Blizzcon panel in which a fan was brave enough to ask a panel full of men, including J. Allen Brack (left) & Alex Afrasiabi (right) whether there's scope for some of WoW's female characters to be less sexualised pic.twitter.com/Elaf3K7KVc
— Chris Bratt (@chrisbratt) July 23, 2021
“Look, it was a shitty answer at the time and it certainly hasn’t aged well,” Street said in an apology on Twitter. “I wish I had said something better then.”
July 27, 2021 – WoW Team Announces It Will Be Removing “References That Are Not Appropriate”
Following backlash, Blizzard announces it will be removing all content that is “not appropriate” for the game, likely referencing the plethora of cameos made by Afrasiabi.
— World of Warcraft (@Warcraft) July 27, 2021
July 28, 2021 – Walkout
Blizzard employees across the country take part in the Walkout For Equality. Hundreds of streamers, developers and gamers from around the world support with donations, boycotts and promotion of the event.
Organisers release a response to Kotick’s email.
Activision Blizzard walkout organizers just released a statement in response to CEO Bobby Kotick's email to staff in which he described the company's response as "tone deaf" pic.twitter.com/64D7w8PhOL
— Megan Farokhmanesh (@Megan_Nicolett) July 28, 2021
July 28, 2021 – Ubisoft Employees Show Support
Almost 500 current and former Ubisoft employees sign a letter in solidarity with the Blizzard team, in which they demand change from their own company and the industry at large.
You can read the letter here.
July 28, 2021 – The “Cosby Suite” Report
An extensive Kotaku report sheds more light on the “Cosby Suite” – the nickname given to Afrasiabi’s 2013 BlizzCon hotel room – mentioned in the lawsuit.
The report- which you can read in full here – claims that “people beyond Alex Afrasiabi were aware of the ‘Cosby Suite’ mentioned in the lawsuit.”
Photographs and Facebook posts obtained by Kotaku appear to show current and former Activision Blizzard employees referencing the ‘Cosby Suite’.
July 29, 2021 – No More ‘All Hands’ Meetings
According to Uppercut, Activision Blizzard halts future ‘all hands’ meetings, prioritising ‘active discussion sessions’ instead.
In an email sent by head of Activision PR Suzie Carr – seen by Uppercut – Blizzard announced “members of the Activision Publishing executive leadership team -Terri Durham, Johanna Faries, Rob Kostich, Dave Stohl, Josh Taub, and me [Carr] — together as a collective are hosting a number of active discussion sessions for up to 30 people.”
No mention of the walkout is made.
July 29, 2021 – Blizzard Hires WilmerHale
Kotick announces the company has hired WilmerHale – the firm helping prevent Amazon employees from unionising – to help review policies and promote a more inclusive workplace.
July 29, 2021 – NYT Investigation
The New York Times publishes a new investigation into Activision Blizzard, in which multiple new sexual assault and/or harassment claims are made.
One employee who worked at the company between 2014 and 2017 alleges she was paid less than her boyfriend, who was hired at the same time to do the same job. She also alleges that a manager messaged her on Facebook to ask what kind of porn she watches.
Another former employee – who was hired in 2011 as a VP – claims an executive “pressured her to have sex with him because she ;deserved to have some fun’ after her boyfriend had died weeks earlier.”
July 30 2021 – The “Penetration” Report
Vice publishes an article about an allegation from 2015, in which Blizzard recruiters allegedly harassed a security researcher who enquired about a penetration testing position at the company.
“One of them asked me when was the last time I was personally penetrated, if I liked being penetrated, and how often I got penetrated,” she said.
July 30 2021 – Fran Townsend Shares A Tweet Criticising Whistleblowers
As criticism of her controversial views grows, Townsend shares a tweet appearing to condemn whistleblowers.
— Frances Townsend (@FranTownsend) July 30, 2021
Any current or former Activision Blizzard employees who want to talk about their experience can contact the author of this story at [email protected]
If you need mental health support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat online.
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