Activision Blizzard lawsuit: Publisher faces storm of harassment and discrimination charges

State of California sues CoD and WoW publisher over sexual discrimination allegations

Image via Activision Blizzard

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Publisher Activision Blizzard has been charged by the State of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) with multiple instances of sexual discrimination. The lawsuit, filed July 20, cites a number of examples where female employees were harassed, overlooked for promotion, suffered constructive dismissal, endured retaliation for lodging complaints with HR, or had their employment terminated on the basis of gender and/or race.

According to the 20-page document, working at Activision Blizzard was “akin to working in a frat house”, where males would “cube crawl”, innuendo and rape jokes were frequently indulged, and unwanted physical advances were made, “subjecting female employees to sexual harassment with no repercussions”. In one tragic example, a female employee committed suicide while at a company event. She was reportedly in a relationship with her male supervisor, who, it is suggested, was responsible for an indecent photo of her that had been passed between male colleagues prior to her death.

What’s particularly damaging for Activision Blizzard is that the breadth of allegations suggest a discriminatory culture that existed – and continues to exist – throughout the company, almost to the point of being openly encouraged. A two year DFEH investigation concluded that Activision Blizzard routinely pays its female employees less, affords them less opportunities to progress, and is more ready to fire them compared to their male counterparts.

Apparently, attempts were made to resolve the complaints set out in the lawsuit prior to it being issued, but the “parties were unable to resolve the administrative complaints”. Judging by the “vigorous denial” to the DFEH’s claims that Activision Blizzard has given, that’s perhaps not surprising. In a statement to PC Gamer, a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard said that 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 defendant has also called the DFEH’s citing of the employee suicide in the lawsuit as “sickening” and having  “no bearing whatsoever” on the case. “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.”

Activision Blizzard isn’t the first organization within the gaming industry to be charged with sexual discrimination and institutional harassment of female or minority employees, but as the publisher of Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Candy Crush, and Overwatch, it’s certainly among the largest. As with Ubisoft and Riot Games, we will be keeping an eye on how things develop at Activision in the weeks and months ahead.