Activision Blizzard, the giants behind titles like Call of Duty, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft, are being sued for fostering a “frat boy” culture where women in the workplace are sexually harassed and are given unequal pay.
The lawsuit, filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), comes after a two-year investigation into the gaming giants.
DFEH’s report into Activision Blizzard claimed working for the company “was akin to working in a frat house, which invariably involved male employees drinking and subjecting female employees to sexual harassment with no repercussion”.
“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,” it said.
“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.”
One example outlined how a woman committed suicide on a work trip after her male supervisor “brought butt plugs and lubricant with him”.
“At a holiday party before her death, male coworkers were alleged to be passing around a picture of the deceased’s vagina,” it said.
The lawsuit also names former Senior Creative Director of World of Warcraft, Alex Afrasiabi. The legal document alleges Afrasiabi was “permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions”.
“Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite was nicknamed the Crosby Suite [sic] after alleged rapist Bill Crosby,” the lawsuit said. Afrasiabi left Blizzard in June 2020.
Women make up 20% of Activision Blizzard’s workforce according to the report, but face challenges in breaking into the company’s hierarchy.
“Activision Blizzard’s double-digit percentage growth, ten-figure annual revenues, and recent diversity marketing campaigns have unfortunately changed little,” the department alleged in their filing.
“Very few women ever reach top roles at the company. The women who do reach higher roles earn less salary, incentive pay and total compensation than their male peers.”
The lawsuit cited several instances of women being denied promotions over male counterparts, despite having more credentials, experience, and time in their role.
It also outlined examples of women being offered lower base pay and less stock rewards for their work. Male employees were also cited as having delegated tasks to women so they could instead play games on the job.
Women of color were disproportionately affected.
Activision Blizzard have released a statement since the lawsuit being filed, claiming the DFEH report “includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.”
“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.”
An Activision Blizzard spokesman sent me a lengthy statement calling the allegations "distorted, and in many cases false" and referring to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing as "unaccountable State bureaucrats." pic.twitter.com/L9RINw0uZ9
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) July 22, 2021
The Activision Blizzard lawsuit is similar to claims filed against other gaming giants Riot Games and Ubisoft.
The makers of League of Legends originally agreed on a $10 million settlement to as many as 1,000 employees after a class-action lawsuit was filed in 2018. It alleged that Riot had facilitated a “bro culture” that led to the harassment of women in the workplace.
A third-party investigation cleared CEO Nicolo Laurent of any wrongdoing in 2021 after the company forced the case into arbitration.
Ubisoft were put under the spotlight in 2020 after executives at the company were investigated for sexual harassment.
A new lawsuit was filed in France just a week ago by the Solidaires Informatique union, claiming CEO Yves Guillemot enabled “institutional sexual harassment” at the company.