Claims from temporary workers have been added to the Activision Blizzard sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit, along with allegations of destroying documents.
Axios reports that the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has included claims from those who worked under Activision Blizzard on a temporary basis. A copy of the lawsuit they obtained noted the state’s protections “exist for employees and contingent or temporary workers,” while the word “employee” was also changed to “workers” throughout.
In addition, DFEH have accused Activision Blizzard of hindering their work via NDAs; requiring them to speak with Activision Blizzard before them. The NDAs are likely intended to prevent revealing upcoming games, cancelled projects, or financial information not yet declared to investors.
DFEH also note law firm WilmerHale, a lawfirm called in by Activision Blizzard to review of their policies and procedures, was another source of hindrance. The lawsuit states the above “directly interferes” with DFEH’s ability to “investigate, prosecute, and remedy” the allegations.
The lawsuit goes as far as to allege that, in part, “documents related to investigations and complaints were shredded by human resource personnel.” Suffice to say, Activision Blizzard would have been obligated to keep them for the pending investigation. Allegations have included that human resources had failed to keep documentation for reports made to them by staff.
The author of the Axios report, former Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo, shared part of the lawsuit on Twitter. Therein, DFEH note that Activision Blizzard refused to provide documents relating to compensation, pay, waivers, and releases. Activision Blizzard claimed that such documents did not exist, or were protected by privilege and confidentiality.
However, DFEH notes they were “informed and aware that documents and records have not been maintained by law or by the DFEH’s Document Retention Notice, including but not limited to documents related to investigations and complaints were shredded by human resource personnel and emails are deleted thirty (30) days after an employee’s separation.”
California state law demands many employee documents be kept for a minimum of two years after received, and kept on file for three. Specifically this includes wages, wage rates, job classifications, and “other terms and conditions of employment.”
A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard told Axios that they had “complied with every proper request in support of its review even as we had been implementing reforms to ensure our workplaces are welcoming and safe for every employee.” The spokesperson also outright denies the allegation of destroying documents.
“With regards to claims that we have destroyed information by shredding documents, those claims are not true. We took appropriate steps to preserve information relevant to the DFEH investigation. […] We have provided the DFEH with clear evidence that we do not have gender pay or promotion disparities. Our senior leadership is increasingly diverse, with a growing number of women in key leadership roles across the company.”
As previously reported, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing concluded a two year investigation. Their findings lead to a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for “frat boy” style sexual harassment, which may have led to one woman who committed suicide on a company trip, and discrimination for women being paid less and promoted less frequently and after longer periods of time.
Activision Blizzard stated that while there was no place for any kind of harassment in the industry, they felt the Californian report “ includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” An internal email from Activision executive Frances Townsend also described the allegations as “factually incorrect, old and out of context.”
In response, almost 1,000 current and former Activision Blizzard employees signed an open letter condemning the response as “abhorrent and insulting.” It also called for official statements to recognize how serious the allegations were, and demonstrate compassion for the victims.
Staff led a walkout on July 28th. Their demands included ending mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, adopting policies to improve representation at all levels of the company, publishing pay data to show women are paid and promoted fairly, and hiring a third party to audit the company’s executive and HR staff. Sources claimed staff would not be punished for the walkout, and had paid time off.
CEO Bobby Kotick later stated that the company’s initial response was “tone deaf.” He announced the company was bringing in law firm WilmerHale to conduct an immediate review of their policies and procedures.
Kotick also stated the company would investigate all claims, create safe spaces for Listening Sessions organized by third parties, an immediate evaluation of managers and leaders, compliance resources for diverse hiring, and removing NPCs from World of Warcraft inspired by those named in the allegations. Employees stated they were dissatisfied with Kotick’s response; for not addressing their demands.
Almost 500 former and current Ubisoft employees announced their support for Activision Blizzard staff in an open letter; calling for new industry-wide rules and processes. Jeff Strain, a former Blizzard Entertainment developer and founder of Undead Labs, recently called for unionization of the video games industry.
An “alliance” of Activision Blizzard staff also rejected WilmerHale as the third party auditing the company. This was due to an alleged conflict of interest, the law firms alleged “history of discouraging workers’ rights and collective action,” and being led by Stephanie Avakian; allegedly specializing in “protecting the wealthy and powerful.”
Coca-Cola and State Farm announced they were reassessing their partnerships with Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League, pulling their promotions from upcoming events. They join T-Mobile who pulled support from the Call of Duty league shortly after the controversy broke.
Activision’s logo was also omitted from trailers and alpha builds of Call of Duty: Vanguard; later stated as a “creative choice that reflects how Vanguard represents the next major installment in the franchise.”
Frances Townsend, an Activision Blizzard executive and former Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, deleted her Twitter account after backlash against her tweet promoting “the problem with whistleblowing.”