Content Warning: This article contains references to sexual harassment, suicide and rape
Activision Blizzard is to be sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for harbouring a "frat boy" workplace culture where female employees are allegedly victims of sexual harassment and unequal pay.
As reported by Bloomberg, the lawsuit is the result of a two-year investigation from the state body into the video games publisher in which it found female staff were discriminated against with regard to employment. It found that women were unjustly subject to inequitable employment conditions, including compensation, assignment, promotion and termination.
Female employees make up 20 per cent of the Activision Blizzard workforce and are said to be the victim of a "pervasive frat boy workplace culture,”
The state has accused the company’s leadership of failing to address or prevent these issues from arising, stating that "compliance with California’s broad workplace protections is long overdue."
Male employees were alleged to have been found to drink "copious amounts of alcohol" and engage in "cube crawls" where male employees would crawl through office cubicles and often exhibit inappropriate sexual comments and grope fellow female coworkers.
In addition, it is alleged that male staff frequently arrived hungover, spent the working day playing video games, while delegating responsibilities to female coworkers, openly discussing sexual encounters and made jokes about rape.
The DFEH accuses the company of failing to take action on "numerous complaints", with reference to harassment, discrimination and retaliation from male employees over those complaints. It is alleged that employees were discouraged from filing complaints as the human resources department were known to be affiliated with alleged harassers.
Female employees have alleged that they have been held back for promotions due to the possibility of pregnancy, been condemned for leaving work to pick up children from daycare and removed from lactation rooms for male colleagues to use the room for meetings.
The lawsuit adduces to an incident where a female employee took her own life while on a business trip with a male supervisor, who had brought inappropriate sexual items with him to the trip. The employee had been a victim of long term sexual harassment including explicit photos being shared at a company holiday party.
The lawsuit aims to seek an injunction necessitating compliance with workplace protections, the remittance of unpaid wages, adjustments to pay, back pay and lost wages and benefits for female employees.
A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard made a statement responding to the allegations. It can be read in full below:
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 behaviour 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 behaviour 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.