Activision Blizzard sued by California over allegations of sexual harassment and ‘frat boy culture’

Content warning: This article contains discussions of sexual harassment and suicide.

Activision Blizzard is being sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, who accuse the company of having a ‘frat boy culture’  that has contributed to years of sexual harassment and unequal pay for women at the company.

Bloomberg reports that these allegations are the result of a two year investigation into the publisher. The lawsuit claims that women, who make up roughly 20% of the workforce at Activision Blizzard, have been subjected to discrimination in terms of unequal pay, sexual harassment, bullying and retaliation.

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in the Los Angeles Superior Court, and describes a “pervasive frat boy culture” in which male employees would take part in “cube crawls,” where they would “drink copious amounts of alcohol as they crawl their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees.”

The suit also claims that male employees would play games during the day while delegating their responsibilities to female employees, and would openly discuss “sexual banter” and make jokes about rape. Female employees on the World of Warcraft team noted that male supervisors and employees would hit on them, make comments about rape and engage in otherwise demeaning behaviour.

Additionally, female employees report being held back from promotions because of the possibility of them becoming pregnant, being kicked out of lactation rooms so that male employees could have meetings, and being criticised for leaving work to pick up their children.

The lawsuit also points to a particularly tragic case, in which a female employee at Activision Blizzard took her own life while she was on a company trip with a male supervisor. The employee had been subjected to intense sexual harassment prior to her death, including having had her nude photos circulated at a company holiday party, the lawsuit claims.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is seeking an injunction forcing compliance with workplace protections, as well as unpaid wages, pay adjustments, back pay and lost wages for female employees.

Activision responded to the allegations in a statement to Bloomberg, describing the investigations’ findings as “distorted” and “false.”

“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 behavior 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 behavior 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.”

About Chris Wallace

Chris is MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer, joining the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can regrettably be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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