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Activision Blizzard lawsuit alleges discrimination, sexual harassment, and 'frat boy' culture

An "Activision" sign on the facade of one of the company's office buildings in LA.
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The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard with claims that employees have faced "constant sexual harassment, including groping, comments, and advances" due to a "frat boy workplace culture". The suit, which comes after over two years of investigation, also alleges that women at Activision Blizzard were paid less than men in the same roles and promoted more slowly than them. Activision Blizzard has vigorously denied the claims in a response today.

The filing (opens in new tab) states that "women were subject to numerous sexual comments and advances, groping and unwanted physical touching, and other forms of harassment," at the studio. "Female employees working for the World of Warcraft team noted that male employees and supervisors would hit on them, make derogatory comments about rape, and otherwise engage in demeaning behavior," reads the complaint. A former chief technology officer is accused of "groping inebriated female employees at company events and was known for making hiring decisions based on female applicants' looks."

Multiple examples are cited, including a story involving an employee suicide which the California department connects to harassment.

Complaints to Activision Blizzard's human resources staff, as well as executives including Blizzard President J Allen Brack, were ineffective as "complaints were treated in a perfunctory and dismissive manner and not kept confidential", says the suit, which resulted in staff who complained being "subjected to retaliation, including but not limited to being deprived of work on projects, unwillingly transferred to different units, and selected for layoffs."

The suit claims that women of color at Activision Blizzard were "particularly vulnerable targets" of discrimination. An "African American employee who worked in information technology" was made by her manager to "write a one-page summary" of how she would spend time off she requested, which no one else was made to do, the agency alleges.

Other women were assigned to lower-level roles, paid less, and passed over for promotion, says the suit, "in favor of male counterparts who lacked the same experience or qualifications but who were friends with the male head of the unit."

"A newly promoted male supervisor delegated his responsibilities to his now female subordinates in favor of playing Call of Duty," it reads.

Before the lawsuit was filed, alternative methods of dispute resolution were apparently attempted, though ultimately "the parties involved were unable to resolve the administrative complaints". On behalf of the plaintiffs, the DFEH is requesting damages, unpaid wages, and compensation of an amount to be determined by a jury trial.

An Activision Blizzard spokesperson responded to the accusations in a statement sent to PC Gamer, which claims the filing includes "distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past." It goes on to say that the DFEH was "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."

The Activision statement also responds specifically to the complaint's suggestion that an employee's death by suicide was related to harassment, saying, "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."

It goes on to suggest that the filing paints an inaccurate image of Activision Blizzard as it currently stands, saying, "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."

Jody Macgregor
Jody Macgregor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, and Playboy.com, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was published in 2015, he edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and actually did play every Warhammer videogame.