Warning: This story includes reports or sexual harassment, abuse, and suicide.
California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing has filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard over claims of equal pay violations, sex discrimination, and sexual harassment, among other thing . The suit also mentioned that some male employees did “engage in sexual banter and joke openly about rape, among other things.” The lawsuit also states that a female Activision employee took her own life on a company trip with her male boss.
“The employee had been subjected to intense sexual harassment prior to her death, including having nude photos passed around at a company holiday party, the complaint says,” according to a Bloomberg report.
The DFEH launched its civil lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, Blizzard Entertainment, and Activision Publishing on Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court. The organization says the companies are violating California’s Equal Pay Act and Fair Employment and Housing Act. The lawsuit follows after the California Senate Bill No. 973–which allows DFEH to file lawsuits around violations of the state’s Equal Pay Act–went into effect on January 1, 2021.
The lawsuit claims that Activision Blizzard fostered a sexist culture and paid women less than men despite 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.”
The lawsuit went on to claim that African American women and other people of color at Activision Blizzard were “particularly impacted” by what the DFEH is calling “discriminatory practices” by the company.
“DFEH alleges that women were subjected to constant sexual harassment, including groping, comments, and advances. The lawsuit also alleges that the company’s executives and human resources personnel knew of the harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the unlawful conduct, and instead retaliated against women who complained,” as stated by the DFEH.
Bloomberg reports that about 20% of Activision Blizzard’s workforce are female, and that the company has a “pervasive frat boy workplace culture.” The report states that some male employees participate in what’s being called “cube crawls” where they “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.”
“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. This is especially important for employers in male-dominated industries, such as technology and gaming.”
The lawsuit wants Activision Blizzard to adhere to policies for workplace protections in California, and also seeks to have the company pay money in form of back pay, lost wages, and unpaid wages for female employees.
Activision Blizzard did respond to the lawsuit, saying the claims are “distorted, and in many cases false” descriptions of behavior from the past. They also said they’ve taken steps and actions to correct the problems. You can read Activision Blizzard’s full statement 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 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 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.”