The video game company responsible for games like World Of Warcraft, Diablo, Call Of Duty, and Candy Crush, has been smacked with a lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing which alleges pervasive discrimination and sexual harassment toward female employees. Activision Blizzard, one of the titans of the video game world, is being sued for creating a toxic “frat boy culture” and for the unequal treatment of its employees on all levels of employment.
After a 2-year investigation, the state agency alleges that the company discriminates against female employees in every facet of employment, including compensation, assignment, promotion, and termination. The state agency also alleges that company leadership consistently fails to take steps to prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. In the history of the company, women have rarely reached higher level positions, which are held exclusively by white men. Women at the company start in lower positions—with significantly lower salaries—and are far less likely to receive promotions and are terminated much faster than their male counterparts.
Women and girls make up half of all gamers in America, yet women make up just 20 percent of the Activision Blizzard workforce. The lawsuit explains that these women–once in the office—are subjected to “cube crawls,” where male co-workers drink copious amounts of alcohol, moving from cubicle to cubicle and engaging “in inappropriate behavior toward female employees.” According to the complaint, this behavior is increasingly common and women working for Activision Blizzard face groping, sexual comments, unwanted advances, and other forms of harassment.
During the workday, the men at the company allegedly delegate tasks to their subordinate women employees and play videos games, all while making inappropriate and sexual jokes, talking about women’s bodies, and openly joking about rape. In one instance, a supervisor is said to have encouraged a male employee to “buy” a prostitute to “cure his bad mood.” The women working under the World Of Warcraft team echoed many of these allegations.
One of the most heinous findings concerns a female Activision Blizzard employee who died by suicide while on a company trip with her male supervisor. She is said to have been the target of intense sexual harassment leading up to her death, including having nude photos of her genitals passed around at a company holiday party.
The investigation also found that women of color were more vulnerable to this unfair treatment from supervisors and coworkers at Activision Blizzard. According to the complaint, the discriminatory behavior includes micromanagement. One Black woman states that though her male coworkers could play videos games during the work day unsupervised, she would receive calls from her bosses the moment she stepped outside to go on a walk. After requesting time off, another Black woman employee was reportedly required by her supervisor to write up a page-long summary of how she would spend her time—something she says her peers were never asked to do.
The complaint states that when these women employees would go to HR, nothing would be done to mitigate the behavior and they felt like the complaints “fell on deaf ears.” The state agency found that supervisors not only do fail to curb the behavior, but they also perpetuate the toxic culture themselves.
In response to the filed lawsuit, a statement from Activision Blizzard calls the findings “distorted” and include “false descriptions of Blizzard’s past.”
“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,” the statement says. “We take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue.”