Activision Blizzard sued by State of California over widespread harassment of women

Activision Blizzard sued by State of California over widespread harassment of women
Ben Borthwick Updated on by

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Activision Blizzard is facing a lawsuit from the State of California that accuses the company of fostering a “pervasive frat boy workplace culture” that it says has led to years of female employees being subject to “constant sexual harassment, unequal pay and retaliation.”

As reported by Bloomberg, the suit was filed on July 20 by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The agency says it undertook a two year investigation that found multiple instances of discrimination against female employees, including in regards to pay, assignment and promotion prospects. The agency also adds that the company’s leadership has also consistently failed to take steps to avoid or prevent discrimination and harassment happening following these incidents.

The full document goes into further detail with examples —please do consider this your content warning for sensitive subjects for the link and going forward. These include “cube crawls” described as a practice where “male employees drink copious amounts of alcohol as they ‘crawl’ their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behaviour.”  The suit also says that “Male employees proudly come into work hungover, 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.”

Later, the suit also mentions how 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 and being groped” at the aforementioned ‘cube crawls’. Female In one particularly distressing example, the suit even mentions a female employee who took her own life during a business trip with a male supervisor who had brought sex toys with him on the trip.

The suit says that numerous complaints were made by those effected to Activision Blizzard human resource personnel and executives, but claims the company “failed to take effective remedial measures in response to these complaints.” Furthermore it’s said that employees were further discouraged from reporting the incidents as HR personnel were “known to be close to alleged harassers” with a an internal investigation even noting there was a “big lack of trust” in the company’s HR department. Those who did report say their complaints were treated in a “perfunctory and dismissive manner” and in some cases not kept confidential. Those who spoke up, the suit claims, were also said to be “deprived of work on projects, unwillingly transferred to different units and selected for layoffs” as a result.

Activision Blizzard has responded to the lawsuit in a lengthy statement given to The Verge. The full statement reads: “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 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.”

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s lawsuit is demanding a trial by jury. Activision Blizzard’s lawsuit is the latest high profile discrimination-in-the-workplace case, with similar recent cases targeting unacceptable workplace culture at Riot Games and Ubisoft.