Activision Blizzard sued by California over alleged sexist 'frat boy' culture

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Engadget 22 July, 2021 - 04:07am 19 views

The DFEH enumerated several findings from its investigation in its complaint (PDF). Activision Blizzard's workforce is only about 20 percent women, and very few of them reach top roles in the company, the court document reads. Further, those who do reach higher roles earn less salary and total compensation than their male peers. Other female employees in non-executive roles are also paid less, promoted more slowly and terminated more quickly.

DFEH also said that the defendant's "frat boy" culture is a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women." Female employees constantly have to fend off unwanted sexual comments, the agency wrote. They have to endure being groped during "cube crawls," in which male employees would drink alcohol as they make their way around various cubicles, as well. The document mentioned one particularly egregious case, in which a female employee took her own life during a business trip with a male supervisor who brought sex toys with him on the trip. According to Bloomberg, that employee was severely harassed prior to her death, with her nude photos passed around during a company holiday party.

Activision Blizzard's HR department received a lot of harassment, discrimination and retaliation complaints, the DFEH said. However, the defendant allegedly failed to take "effective remedial measures in response" to them. Also, people were apparently discouraged from making complaints, since human resource personnel were known to be close to the alleged harassers.

The state agency has filed the lawsuit to force the video game titan to comply with California's workplace protections. It's also seeking unpaid wages and pay adjustments for female employees.

Activision Blizzard, however, denies DEFH's allegations. In a statement, the company said that the agency's lawsuit "includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past." It called the DFEH's complaint "inaccurate" and described the lawsuit as the "type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State's best businesses out of California."

The whole statement, courtesy of Kotaku, reads:

"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."

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Lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard for harassment and discrimination against women

GamesIndustry.biz 22 July, 2021 - 11:44am

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The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for "violations of the state's civil rights and equal pay laws" regarding its treatment of women.

The lawsuit is the result of a two-year investigation into the studio by the state agency, Bloomberg reported, and describes Activision Blizzard's alleged "frat boy" culture, a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women."

The lawsuit describes an atmosphere where women have to "continually fend off unwanted sexual comments and advances by their male co-workers" and are "being groped" at what the document describes as "cube crawls."

"In the office, women are subjected to 'cube crawls' in which male employees 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," the lawsuit reads. "Male employees proudly come into work hungover, play video games for long periods of time during work while delegating their responsibilities to female employees, engage in banter about their sexual encounters, talk openly about female bodies, and joke about rape."

The document goes on explaining the tragic consequences of this alleged constant sexual harassment, with a female employee dying by suicide "during a business trip with a male supervisor who had brought butt plugs and lubricant with him."

The DFEH reports that numerous complaints were made to HR and management, including to Blizzard Entertainment's J. Allen Brack, to no avail.

"Employees were further discouraged from complaining as human resource personnel were known to be close to alleged harassers," the lawsuit says. "As a result of these complaints, female employees were subjected to retaliation, including but not limited to being deprived of work on projects, unwillingly transferred to different units, and selected for layoffs."

The lawsuit also highlights a pay gap between genders across all roles and seniority levels.

"These discriminatory practices began at hire when women were offered lower compensation and less lucrative job assignments and opportunities than their male counterparts," the document reads.

The pay gap went all the way to the most senior roles, with chief people officer Claudine Naughton having a yearly salary of $655,000 in 2020 while, for example, president and chief operating officer Daniel Alegre had a salary of over $1 million. The salary of Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has been under fire over last year, with the exec recently taking a 50% pay cut.

The lawsuit also says that women at Activision Blizzard have to "work harder and longer" to earn promotions and be given the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

GamesIndustry.biz reached out to Activision Blizzard for comment, with a spokesperson denying all the accusations from the DFEH lawsuit and saying it is "not the Blizzard workplace of today."

"The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past," they said. "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."

They went on saying that the "inaccurate" complaint was "rushed," and condemned "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."

They added that Activision Blizzard "fosters a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone" and that significant changes have been made to address Activision Blizzard's company culture in recent years and "reflect more diversity within our leadership teams." The company's leadership team can be seen on this page.

Actions taken by the company to foster a healthy workplace culture include an updated code of conduct to "emphasize a strict non-retaliation focus," internal channels to report violations, a confidential integrity hotline, and the creation of an Employee Relations team, the spokesperson listed. All Activision Blizzard employees must also undergo regular anti-harassment training.

"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."

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Activision Blizzard Lawsuit Alleges Horrific Mistreatment Of Women

Forbes 22 July, 2021 - 06:56am

A two year investigation by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has resulted in a lawsuit that is moving forward against Activision Blizzard for what is deemed “frat boy” culture at the company, in terms of how it has treated women.

Reading the text of the lawsuit, it’s clear that description is severely underplaying what’s alleged to have happened here.

The filing document has just been made public, and is full of not just instances of infuriating discrimination and sexism, but at least one truly horrifying story that stands out in particular. Content warning for descriptions of sexual harassment, assault and suicide follow.

The types of allegations in the lawsuit?

And finally, the most haunting story documented in the lawsuit. Again, a content warning:

The outcry online to the contents of this lawsuit has been loud and forceful, even in an industry where discrimination and sexism is all too common (Ubisoft, most recently, is another large publisher accused of widespread misconduct). Many women have reported facing similar issues at their respective past employers as this story has begun to circulate.

For Activision Blizzard’s part, when asked for comment, they have issued a lengthy statement, saying both that the company has changed its culture over the last few years, but it also blasts the California lawsuit, including its inclusion of the suicide which it says has “no bearing whatsoever” on the case. Here is their response in full:

The end result of the lawsuit is unclear, as this is all just spooling up, but I’ve seen a call for a boycott of Activision Blizzard projects in the wake of this, though whether that gains steam or this story permeates the more general gaming public remains to be seen. More to come as the lawsuit unfolds.

Activision Blizzard sued by California over sexual harassment and bullying allegations - VG247

VG247 22 July, 2021 - 05:18am

A two-year investigation by the state of California has ended in a lawsuit aimed at Activision Blizzard, citing sexual harassment, bullying, unfair pay, and more besides.

Following a two-year investigation by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the state has filed a lawsuit against the publisher and developer, alleging the company incubated a “frat boy” culture (via Bloomberg Law).

The lawsuit alleges that female employees working for the company – who make up roughly 20% of the workforce – are victims of discrimination in terms of unequal pay, sexual harassment, bullying, and retaliation.

The investigation that brought the lawsuit to Activision Blizzard, at one point, suggests an employee took her own life as the result of sexual harassment, whilst on a trip with her male supervisor. Prior to the event, inappropriate images of her had been passed around the studio at a holiday party.

Elsewhere in the investigation, it’s alleged that male employees at Activision Blizzard drank alcohol at work “while delegating their responsibilities to female employees.”

Men would also “engage in banter about their sexual encounters, talk openly about female bodies, and joke about rape.”

As per the investigation, company leadership consistently failed to take steps to prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing seeks an injunction forcing compliance with workplace protections, as well as unpaid wages, pay adjustments, back pay, and lost wages and benefits for female employees.

Activision Blizzard has acknowledged the investigation in a statement, per Bloomberg Law, and appears to disagree with the findings.

“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,” a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard said.

“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.”

“The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today.”

Last year, Blizzard employees complained of pay disparities as Activision recorded record profits. In 2019, the company was criticized for its decision to lay off around 800 of its staff on the same day it announced breaking new revenue records.

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Activision Blizzard sued by California over 'frat boy' workplace culture

CNET 22 July, 2021 - 01:01am

The DFEH's suit accuses Activision Blizzard of workplace discrimination. It alleges that women are not only compensated unfairly, but also subject to considerable harassment. The agency called Activision Blizzard a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination," in which women are subject to regular sexual advances by men, often high-ranking, who largely go unpunished.

"Women and girls now make up almost half of gamers in America, but the gaming industry continues to cater to men," the suit reads. "Activision-Blizzard's double-digit percentage growth, ten-figure annual revenues, and recent diversity marketing campaigns have unfortunately changed little."

Activision Blizzard, which publishes titles including Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, and last year had revenues of over $8 billion, is the latest in a line of gaming giants to face criticisms over workplace culture. The CEO of Riot Games, the company behind the hugely popular League of Legends, was accused of sexual harassment in February by a former employee -- just a year after it paid $10 million to over 1,000 women to settle a discrimination lawsuit. Last year dozens of accusations of sexual harassment at Ubisoft, which publishes Assassin's Creed, led to the resignation of three executives.

Illustrative of the claims DFEH is making against Activision is an office ritual referred to as "cube crawls," in which men allegedly drink "copious" alcohol, crawl through the office cubicles and engage in "inappropriate behavior" that includes groping. The lawsuit describes incidents including allegations that a female employee died by suicide during a business trip as a result of a toxic relationship with a supervisor.  

Activision-Blizzard firmly rejected the suit in a statement released to media. "The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past," it said, accusing the state department of filing a rushed and inaccurate report. The company said it was "sickened" by the inclusion of "the tragic suicide of an employee whose passing has no bearing whatsoever" on the case.

Beyond workplace harassment, the DFEH lawsuit also alleges systematic discrimination against women. Women are paid less for the same work, the lawsuit alleges, and are subject to a greater level of scrutiny. The department criticized Activision-Blizzard for employing fewer women than men -- it said 20% of the company's employees were women -- and for its exclusively white, male "top leadership." Of the 12 leadership positions listed on the firm's website, three are filled by women. 

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