The hits keep coming for Activision Blizzard, as fresh off of a confirmed loss of millions of players from Blizzard’s products and rumors of World of Warcraft’s implosion, the Call of Duty and Overwatch publisher is now being sued by the State of California for fostering and permitting a discriminatory and unsafe “fray boy workplace culture” within the company.
According to the lawsuit, filed against Activision Blizzard on July 20th by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on behalf of ten of the company’s female employees, the video game titan has not only discriminated against the women on its workforce by preventing their advancement to leadership and paying them “less salary, incentive pay and total compensation than their male peers”, but also by fostering a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ workplace culture that continues to thrive.”
“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 behavior toward female employees,” explained the State.
“Male employees proudly come into work hungover,” they continued, “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.”
Further asserting that “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,” the State elaborated on the effects this culture has had on the company’s female employees by recalling how “a particularly tragic example” wherein “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.”
“Another employee confirmed that the deceased female employee may have been suffering from other sexual harassment at work prior to her death,” the State added. “Specifically, at a holiday party before her death, male co-workers were alleged to be passing around a picture of the deceased’s vagina.”
The lawsuit also claims that Activision Blizzard’s “human resources personnel and executives, including [Blizzard President] J. Allen Brack,” failed “to take effective remedial measures in response to these complaints.”
“Employees were further discouraged from complaining as human resource personnel were known to be close to alleged harassers,” noted the State. “As a result of these complaints, female employees were subjected to retaliation, including but not limited to being deprived of work on projects, unwillingly transferred to different units, and selected for layoffs.”
In a lengthy statement sent to various media outlets, including Kotaku and IndieWire, Activision Blizzard refuted the lawsuit’s allegations, arguing that “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.
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