UPDATE: The original article has been corrected to more accurately reflect the contents of the lawsuit.
Activision Blizzard are being sued for “frat boy” style sexual harassment, with allegedly one incident leading to a woman’s suicide.
Bloomberg report that a two year investigation by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) had concluded. Their report accused Activision Blizzard of discriminating against female employees in compensation, assignment, promotion, and termination. Female employees make up 20% of staff.
The lawsuit, filed July 20th in the Los Angeles Superior Court, accuses that women at Activision Blizzard suffer under a “pervasive frat boy workplace culture.” This also involves the “cube crawl;” where male employees would “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.”
Along with allegedly delegating work to female employees while they play video games during work hours; male staff are also accused of sexual discussions, openly joking about subjects such as rape, and more.
Female employees were allegedly prevented from promotions due to fears of becoming pregnant, and criticized for having to pick up children from daycare. They were also kicked out of dedicated “lactation rooms” so male employees could use the room for meetings.
Those working on World of Warcraft accused male employees and supervisors of hitting on them, making derogatory comments about rape, and other demeaning behavior.
The most damning accusation is a female Activision employee committing suicide on a company trip, after a sexual relationship with her male supervisor, and allegedly subjected to intense sexual harassment. The suit claims police discovered he had brought a butt plug and lubricant. The employee had previously suffered sexual harassment at work, including male co-workers spreading pictures of her vagina at the company holiday party.
The DFEH is seeking an injunction to force Activision Blizzard to comply with work place protections, implement pay adjustments, pay female employees in numerous ways (backpay, lost and unpaid wages, and benefits).
The suit itself opens citing the New York Times report on “Feminist Critics of Video Games Facing Threats in ‘GamerGate’ Campaign“to state “sexism has plagued the male-dominated gaming industry for decades, and increasingly so in recent years.”
The suit also bemoans that the top leadership act Activision Blizzard is “exclusively male and white. The CEO and President roles are now – and have always been – held by white men.” In terms of at least gender, this used to emphasize how very few women achieve higher roles at the company, and even when they do earn less pay and compensation than men.
A later example was given of a female employee being promoted after three years (and performing duties beyond her job description), while her male college was promoted within a year despite having started several months after her.
Women of color were also noted as being “particularly vulnerable” to discrimination, such as micromanaging. While male employees could play video games during the day and ask for time off without issue; two African American women had their superior call to check on her when they took a break to go for a walk, and had to write a one page summery of how they’d spend their time off work respectively.
The suit also accuses Activision Blizzard of terminating women quickly, the cube crawls leading to groping and superiors encouraging the demeaning topics, a quid pro quo and retaliatory environment, male colleges being promoted over harder working and more successful female colleagues, and female employees excluded due to not being “huge gamers,” “core gamers,” or into the party scene.
Complaints to human resources and Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack were allegedly ignored, and led to female employees quitting or suffering involuntary transfers, layoffs, and denial of projects and other opportunities. The human resources department also featured personnel who were close friends with the alleged harassers, and failed to keep complaints confidential.
The defendants in the case are listed as Activision Blizzard, Blizzard Entertainment, Activision Publishing, and ten Jon Does; the latter names and capacities unknown at this time. An employee that was named was Alex Afrasibabi, the former Senior Creative Director of World of Warcraft.
During BlizzCon, he was accused of hitting on female employees, telling them he wanted to marry them, attempted to kiss them, and put his arms around them. Other male employees and supervisors intervened to pull him off female employees. His behavior then and elsewhere at Blizzard Entertainment led to his suite being nicknamed the “Crosby Suite.”
Despite multiple alleged conversations with Brack, Afrasiabi only received verbal counseling, and allegedly continued to harass. This included groping one woman and grabbing another’s hand and inviting her to his hotel room. He was also allegedly known for hiring female applicants based on their looks.
“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,” a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard said in a statement to Bloomberg. “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.”
We shall keep you informed as we learn more.