On Wednesday, a California State agency filed a lawsuit against the game publisher Activision Blizzard over allegations of rampant sexual discrimination and sexual harassment. The nature of this harassment is so widespread, the lawsuit says, that women who have worked for the game maker “almost universally confirmed that working for Defendants was akin to working in a frat house”—which, according to this lawsuit, means a workplace full of inebriated men who sexually harassed their female colleagues without being punished for it.
The 29-page lawsuit claims that across the entire corporation, pay disparity led to women receiving “less total compensation than their male counterparts while performing substantially similar work.” It includes multiple alleged examples of Activision Blizzard slowing promotions for women in favor of male counterparts, even when those women had longer tenures and a superior review record at the company, and added that women of color were “particularly targets of Defendants’ discriminatory practices.”
A direct report to Blizzard’s president
The full lawsuit includes a lengthy list of violations of both sexual discrimination and sexual harassment statutes, including many that single out unnamed Activision Blizzard staffers, and they range from explicit to repugnant. The lawsuit describes one particularly extreme example of alleged harassment—and says the sufferer eventually took her own life.
Multiple company executives are mentioned by name in the filing. Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack allegedly received a direct report from an employee in “early 2019” that staffers were quitting the company over “sexual harassment and sexism.” The report pointed directly to the company’s battle.net online service team, where “women who were not ‘huge gamers’ or ‘core gamers’ and not into the party scene were excluded and treated like outsiders.”
A former senior creative director at the company’s World of Warcraft division allegedly had a reputation at Blizzard’s annual BlizzCon event for hitting on female colleagues; he was so aggressive that “supervisors had to intervene and pull him off female employees.” Brack is named in these allegations for giving the director nothing more than a “slap on the wrist” after each incident.
And one Activision CTO, not identified by name, was allegedly seen “groping inebriated female employees at company events” and allegedly hired women based on their looks.
The lawsuit alleges a long and detailed history of Activision Blizzard not responding to official complaints filed by affected staffers. Those complaints were allegedly not kept confidential, and the lawsuit claims those complainants were subject to subsequent retaliation, which came in the form of layoffs, unwanted department transfers, and denied career advancements.
Company response: “Unaccountable State bureaucrats”
Activision Blizzard issued a statement following the lawsuit, going so far as to accuse California State’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing of “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” After claiming that the DFEH didn’t engage in “good faith discussions” prior to filing its suit, it then called the suit “irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that [is] driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”
The damages sought by the DFEH include those based on women’s pay disparity, and while Activision Blizzard’s statement includes claims that it “strive[s] to pay all employees fairly for equal or substantially similar work,” it doesn’t acknowledge any possible issue of pay disparity in the company’s past, nor how the company might have rectified prior violations of California state law.