Content warning: This article contains references to and descriptions of sexual harassment and suicide.
Activision Blizzard has been sued by the State of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) for sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation against its female employees.
The lawsuit comes after two years of investigation by the DFEH. The contents of the lawsuit are detailed, with accounts from female employees, seemly both current and present, highlighting systematic discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation.
One of the key findings was that the “Defendants (Activision Blizzard) discriminated against female employees in terms and conditions of employment, including compensation, assignment, promotion, termination, constructive discharge, and retaliation.” Additionally, the investigation uncovered that Activision Blizzard paid women less than their male counterparts for similar work.
As the lawsuit describes, this discriminatory practice “began at hire when women were offered lower compensation and less lucrative job assignments and opportunities than their male counterparts.” Unequal pay and opportunity continued to be a pattern for female employees even after hire. Female employees were also terminated more quickly than male employees.
Sexist attitudes also ran rampant within the day-to-day experiences within the company. Promotions were not given to females because “she might get pregnant and like being a mom more.” Dismissive attitudes and negative evaluations were also given for employees who took maternity leave, needed private spaces like a lactation room, or picked up children from daycare.
The lawsuits also cites experiences of sexual harassment, a work experience female employees called “akin to working in a frat house, which invariably involved male employees drinking and subjecting female employees to sexual harassment with no repercussion…. Women were subjected to numerous sexual comments and advances, groping and unwanted physical touching, and other forms of harassments.”
For example, “cube crawls” were a common practice in Activision Blizzard offices. Male employees would also come in hungover, speak about female bodies (in some examples, directly about and to female employees), and “make numerous jokes about rape.”
In a particularly tragic example, “a female employee committed suicide while on a company trip due to a sexual relationship that she had been having with her male supervisor.” Her male supervisor was found to have brought “a butt plug and lubricant on this business trip.” Another employee confirmed to the DFEH that the employee had been sexually harassed at work prior, specifically recounting male employees sharing a picture of her nude body during a holiday party.
Other examples of discrimination and sexual harassment outlined by the lawsuit include:
- Male supervisors would delegate responsibilities to female subordinates or communicate only with male employees, sometimes doing so to play Call of Duty.
- Women of color were extra scrutinized, one being micromanaged while “her male coworkers were known to be playing video games… but her supervisor would call and check on her if she took a break to walk,” and another requiring to submit a “one-page summary” if she requested time off while no one else had to. The latter employee was also criticized for her body language and if she needed help on a project, chastisement other employees would not receive.
- Female employees would receive comments about their bodies at work, one employee receiving comments about her breasts.
- Female employees on the World of Warcraft team stated that “male employees and supervisors would hit on them, make derogatory comments about rape, and otherwise engage in demeaning behavior.”
- Male supervisors would “openly [encourage] a male subordinate to ‘buy’ a prostitute” to help with a bad mood.
- Women on the Battle.net team were “subjected to disparaging comments… [and] women who were not ‘huge gamers’ or ‘core gamers’ and not into the party scene were excluded and treated as outsiders.”
Women in the offices have been active in lodging complaints through traditional avenues, but supervisors and human resources have done little to address the issues. In fact, employees who did submit a complaint “experienced retaliation by Defendants that included involuntary transfers, selection for layoffs, and denial of projects and other opportunities.” Human resources is not trusted by employees with several complaints not being kept confidential.
The lack of accountability is clearly outlined in Activision Blizzard’s “refusal” to reprimand in a substantive way Alex Afrasiabi, former Senior Creative Director of World of Warcraft, for his actions. Afrasiabi would accost female employees in front of supervisors, “telling him (sic) he wanted to marry them, attempting to kiss them, and putting his arms around them.” His harassment was so well known that “his suite was nicknamed the ‘Crosby Suite’ after alleged rapist Bill Crosby.” Even though executives knew of his actions, even President of Blizzard Entertainment J. Allen Brack allegedly only “had multiple conversations with Afrasiabi about his drinking and that he had been ‘too friendly’ towards female employees at company events but gave Afrasiabi a slap on the wrist (i.e verbal counseling).
Activision has sense released a statement in response to the lawsuit, largely claiming that the lawsuit misrepresents and distorts Blizzard’s workplace culture (source VGC).
The full lawsuit can be read here.