Game giant Activision Blizzard has been hit with a lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, alleging the company’s “pervasive frat boy workplace culture” resulted in women employees being continuously subjected to sexual harassment and being paid less than men.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a civil lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, as well as Blizzard Entertainment and Activision Publishing, alleging violations of the state’s Equal Pay Act as well as the Fair Employment and Housing Act.
According to the DFEH, Activision Blizzard fostered a “sexist culture” and paid women less than men despite women doing substantially similar work; assigned women to lower level jobs and promoted them at slower rates than men, and fired or forced women to quit at higher frequencies than men.
DFEH alleged that women were subjected to constant sexual harassment, including groping, comments, and advances. The lawsuit also alleges that the company’s executives and HR personnel knew of the harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the unlawful conduct, and instead retaliated against women who complained.
DFEH also alleged that Black women and other women of color were particularly affected by Activision Blizzard’s discriminatory practices.
The video game company’s male employees would “engage in banter about their sexual encounters, talk openly about female bodies, and make numerous jokes about rape,” according to the lawsuit.
For example, women working on the “World of Warcraft” team said male employees and supervisors would “hit on them, make derogatory comments about rape, and otherwise engage in demeaning behavior. This behavior was known to supervisors and indeed encouraged by them, including a male supervisor openly encouraging a male subordinate to ‘buy’ a prostitute to cure his bad mood,” per the DEFH complaint.
A copy of the 29-page complaint is at this link. It was filed July 20 in the Superior Court for California in Los Angeles.
“All employers should ensure that their employees are being paid equally and take all steps to prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation,” DFEH director Kevin Kish said in a statement released Thursday. “This is especially important for employers in male-dominated industries, such as technology and gaming.”
In the lawsuit, DEFH is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive monetary damages, as well as unpaid wages for workers under the California Equal Pay Act.
In a lengthy statement in response to the suit, 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.”