Blizzard at GamesCom 2015

Activision Blizzard accused of “constant sexual harassment” in lawsuit

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This week the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) in California has brought a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard and its subsidiaries for violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Equal Pay Act.

Among the many allegations made by the DFEH we find claims that Activision Blizzard’s workforce is only 20 percent female while top leadership is exclusively male and white.

“The women who do reach higher roles [earn] less salary, incentive pay and total compensation than their male peers, as evidenced in Defendants’ own records,” says the DFEH.

As far as the allegations go however, there is worse to come.

The lawsuit goes on to describe a “frat boy” culture within the workplace.

We should warn you that what follows will leave you feeling ill.

“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. 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. Unsurprisingly, Defendants’ “frat boy” culture is a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women. Female employees are subjected to constant sexual harassment, including having to continually fend off unwanted sexual comments and advances by their male coworkers and supervisors and being groped at the ‘cube crawls’ and other company events. High ranking executives and creators engaged in blatant sexual harassment without repercussions. In a particularly tragic example ,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. Defendants continuously condone the quid pro quo and hostile work environment. The message is not lost on their employees,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit paints a picture of how those in senior positions at Activision Blizzard either ignored complaints from employees or – for want of a better word – punished those accused of harassment with little more than a slap on the wrist.

The DFEH has asked the court to issue a judgement in its favour and order Activision Blizzard to pay compensatory and punitive damages, penalties under the Equal Pay Act and more.

The full lawsuit filing can be read here thanks to The Verge.

A statement from Activision Blizzard was issued shortly after this lawsuit was filed. In its response Activision Blizzard claims the DFEH has distorted descriptions of the firm’s past.

We’ve included the full statement from Activision Blizzard at the end of this story via Kotaku.

Will anything come of this? Well, when Riot Games was accused of sexual harassment and discrimination by employees, the DFEH joined that lawsuit and ultimately Riot Games settled the matter for $10 million. Whether lightning will strike twice for the DFEH is not something we can speculate about.

The Verge reports that five former Blizzard employees have come forward to corroborate details of the lawsuit including the so-called “cube crawl”.

Statement from Blizzard Activision

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.

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.

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