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California sues Activision Blizzard over sexist, harmful workplace culture

UPDATE: The state of California is suing Activision Blizzard over some of the most toxic workplace sexual harassment allegations leveled against the game industry.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

July 21, 2021

4 Min Read

The state of California is suing Activision Blizzard over some of the most toxic workplace sexual harassment allegations leveled against the game industry, according to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The agency is seeking an injunction to force compliance with workplace protections, and for the company to settle up on unpaid wages, pay adjustments, back pay, and lost wages and benefits for the women making the accusations.

The lawsuit (unearthed first by Bloomberg Law) contains some of the most shocking descriptions of sexist and toxic workplace culture that we’ve covered on Gamasutra.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing described the company as having a “frat boy” culture, and alleges that a largely male workforce would regularly deny promotions to female employees, engage in sexual banter, and joke openly about rape in the workforce.

Women working at Activision Blizzard allege that they weren’t promoted because of the possibility they might become pregnant, were criticized for picking children up from daycare, and being kicked out of lactation rooms so male employees could use the room for meetings.

That only scratches the surface of the allegations. The suit alleges that a female Activision employee died by suicide while traveling for work with a male supervisor. According to the lawsuit, she had suffered intense sexual harassment at the company, and fellow employees allegedly passed nude photos of her around at a company holiday party.

We've reached out to Activision Blizzard for comment, and will update this story if they respond.

Update: Activision Blizzard has publicly responded to the allegations, and argues in a statement sent to Gamasutra that it has already taken action to address the issues of misconduct disclosed in the lawsuit. Beyond that, the Blizzard statement makes the argument that the lawsuit "includes distorted, and in many cases false descriptions of Blizzard's past" and that, given "significant changes to address company culture" in the past several years, "the picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today." 

You can read the full Activision Blizzard statement below.

"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," said a company spokesperson.

"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."

If you or someone you know has been affected by this, you can email Gamasutra to share your story confidentially. 

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