Activision Blizzard has been sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing because of its reported failure to handle sexual harassment and discrimination against female employees.
Note: This article contains references to sexual harassment and suicide
The DFEH held an investigation into the company that lasted over two years and has concluded that it “found evidence that [Activision Blizzard] discriminated against female employees in terms and conditions of employment, including compensation, assignment, promotion, termination, constructive discharge and retaliation.”
It adds: “DFEH’s investigation also found that female employees were subject to sexual harassment.”
The lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday at the Los Angeles Superior Court, claims that despite being headquartered in California “where the nation’s strongest anti-harassment, equal pay and other equal employment opportunity protections exist for employees”, Activision has failed to make improvements in these areas.
“Unlike its customer base of increasingly diverse players, Defendants’ workforce is only about 20% women,” the suit states, adding: “Its top leadership is also exclusively male and white. The CEO and President roles are now – and have always been – held by white men.
“Very few women ever reach top roles at the company. 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.”
The suit goes on to cite alleged incidences of sexual harassment and discrimination at Activision Blizzard, including reports of ‘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 inappropriate behaviour toward female employees”.
According to the suit, “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.”
It also claims that “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.” The suit alleges that at a holiday party before her death, male co-workers were passing around nude photos of her.
Other specific alleged incidents in the suit include:
- a female employee at Blizzard being assigned a lower level role, being denied equal pay and being told it “was not her turn” for a promotion: it took her three years to get promoted while a male counterpart was promoted within a year of being hired
- a female employee at Blizzard being assigned a lower level role, being denied equal pay and being passed over for promotion despite high performance reviews, while her male counterpart was regularly invited to one-on-one meetings with the Vice President and was eventually promoted
- a newly promoted male supervisor who “delegated his responsibilities to his now female subordinates in favour of playing Call of Duty”
- female HR and accounting employees at Activision being paid less than male counterparts and being passed over for promotion despite “doing substantially more work”
- a female employee working on a game team who had taken on some of the roles of a manager: when she asked to be fairly paid for the extra work she was doing, she was told the company “could not risk promoting her as she might get pregnant and like being a mom too much”
- female employees reporting that they were criticised for leaving to pick up their children from daycare, or being kicked out of lactation rooms so employees could use the room for meetings
- an African American female employee who said she was micromanaged such that when she requested time off work, her manager made her write a one-page summary of how she would spend her time off work, when nobody else had to write one
- a female employee who says random male employees would approach her at work and comment on her breasts
- female employees on the World of Warcraft team noting that male employee and supervisors would hit on them and make derogatory comments about rape
Activision has responded to the lawsuit with a statement accusing the DFEH of not engaging with it on “what they thought they were seeing” in their investigation.
Its 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 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.