In recent years, in-depth investigations have led to accusations of toxic and sexist work environments at several major game studios. Riot Games and Ubisoft are both currently tangled up in sexual harassment lawsuits, and Activision is now joining them. Following a 2-year long investigation, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is suing Activision-Blizzard for numerous alleged violations, including sex-based pay discrimination.
California sues Activision
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is seeking an injunction that will force compliance with workplace protections. They are also seeking to rectify unpaid wages as well as secure pay adjustments, back pay, and lost wages and benefits for female employees.
The causes of action include sex-based employment discrimination, retaliatory behavior against female employees, failure to prevent discrimination and harassment, and unequal pay.
Harassment and discrimination allegations
The California department’s investigation concluded that Activision has a “pervasive frat boy workplace culture” where sexism and discrimination run rampant. Their lawsuit alleges that male employees working on World of Warcraft at Blizzard regularly drink at work, hit on their female co-workers, make demeaning comments, and joke about rape.
They also cite a female employee who was given lower pay than her male colleagues and passed over for a promotion despite being the most qualified. Their investigation found that she was highly rated in her performance reviews, generated significantly more revenue in her marketing campaigns, and ran almost twice as many marketing campaigns. Despite this, she was left out of regular meetings with the Vice President and not offered opportunities for advancement.
Other female employees were found to have been passed over for male co-workers with less experience and qualifications. This includes women who say they lost work opportunities because their supervisors feared they may become pregnant, as well as women who were criticized for leaving to pick up their children from daycare. Other women said they were kicked out of lactation rooms so male colleagues could use them for meetings. Several African-American women also left the company after they claimed they were subjected to excessive levels of scrutiny and micromanagement that none of their white co-workers faced.
Alex Afrasiabi, now an ex-employee, was specifically named in the sexual harassment allegations and pointed to as an example of management ignoring the problem. While serving as Senior Creative Director of World of Warcraft, he allegedly tried to kiss female employees, asked them to marry him, and put his arms around them. When Blizzard took no serious action to stop this behavior, he allegedly went on to grope a woman.
The most disturbing accusation by far involves a female employee who took her own life. This tragic event occurred during a company trip with a male supervisor, and the two had been in a sexual relationship. The suit alleges that she faced extreme sexual harassment at work, including co-workers passing around naked pictures of her at a company holiday party. You can read the lawsuit for yourself by clicking here.
Activision denies the allegations
An Activision-Blizzard spokesperson has reached out to Jason Schreier of Bloomberg to issue a response. The spokesperson’s statement calls the allegations “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” Activision accuses the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing of acting in bad faith and rushing to file an inaccurate complaint. They further state that the department represents “irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.” You can read their full statement here.
In response, Schreier states that he has personally heard “several stories about sexism and sexual misconduct at Blizzard” and intends to report on the subject further.
Update: Stephanie Krutsick, a former Blizzard producer has corroborated some of the allegations against Alex Afrasiabi. Krutsick claims Afrasiabi harassed her at Blizzcon 2013, and that she remained silent in public until she left the company because she feared retaliation. Without getting into specifics, she goes on to say that she experienced some of the other situations described in the lawsuit as well. She continued to say that many wonderful people work at Blizzard, but there’s been a lack of accountability in the past.