State of California sues Activision Blizzard over sexual harassment of women

By Published On: July 22, 2021Categories: Gaming, News

Activision Blizzard has been accused of creating a hostile work environment for female employees and having a “frat boy” culture.

Activision Blizzard, one of the biggest gaming companies in the world, has been sued by the State of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles. The lawsuit alleges that Activision Blizzard has violated multiple state laws, such as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and California Equal Pay Act.

The DFEH says, “Unlike its customer base of increasingly diverse players, Defendants’ (Activision Blizzard) workforce is only about 20 percent women. Its top leadership is also exclusively male and white. The CEO and President roles are now—and always have 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.” This claim by the DFEH raises numerous questions about a company that has pushed for diversity and inclusion over the years at all levels of the company.

Activision Blizzard’s “frat boy” culture extended beyond harassment of women

The lawsuit also alleges that male employees went on “cube crawls” where they drank excessive amounts of alcohol and engaged in inappropriate behavior towards female employees. Aside from the overt harassment that is laid out in the lawsuit, male employees would also come into work hungover and play video games while delegating responsibilities to female employees. Male employees would also talk about their sexual encounters, joke about rape, and make comments about women’s bodies.

Complaints about unlawful harassment, discrimination, and retaliation were made to the human resources department and executives, even reaching Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack. However, these complaints went disregarded as the HR department had discouraged from complaining, and it is alleged that HR themselves were close to alleged harassers. Female employees, as a result of the “frat boy” culture, were not selected to work on projects, transferred to different units, and selected for layoffs ahead of their male colleagues.

Complaints centered around former Senior Creative Director of World of Warcraft, Alex Afrasiabi

Amidst the firestorm of accusations, several particular incidents centered on former World of Warcraft Senior Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi. According to the lawsuit, Afrasiabi was allowed to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no consequences. During BlizzCon, Afrasiabi hit on female employees. He said he wanted to marry them, attempted to kiss them, and put his arms around them. This was also in view of male employees and supervisors, who had to reportedly pull Afrasiabi off of female employees he was sexually harassing. Afrasiabi’s reputation was so notorious that his suite at BlizzCon was nicknamed the “Cosby Suite” after alleged rapist Bill Cosby.

Unfortunately, the sexual harassment culture was so pervasive that a female employee committed suicide. Another employee confirmed that she may have been subjected to sexual harassment prior to her death, particularly male co-workers passing around nude photos of the woman at a holiday party.

Activision Blizzard’s response to the suit

In a lengthy statement responding to the suit brought about by California’s DFEH, Activision Blizzard issued this statement.

“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.”

About the Author: Jose Alvarez