California Slaps a SoCal Video Game Giant with a Sex Discrimination Suit

Santa Monica-based Activision Blizzard is accused of fostering an environment where women were harassed and undervalued

California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against gaming giant Activision Blizzard in Los Angeles Superior Court this week, accusing the Call of Duty and World of Warcraft maker of creating a “frat boy” culture in which women were subjected to sexual harassment, lower pay for equal work, and were retaliated against if they spoke up.

The agency said in a statement Wednesday that the Santa Monica-based company “allegedly fostered a sexist culture and paid women less than men despite women doing substantially similar work, assigned women to lower level jobs and promoted them at slower rates than men, and fired or forced women to quit at higher frequencies than men.”

DFEH further contends, “African American women and other women of color were particularly impacted by Activision Blizzard’s discriminatory practices,” and claims that “women were subjected to constant sexual harassment, including groping, comments, and advances… that the company’s executives and human resources personnel knew of the harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the unlawful conduct, and instead retaliated against women who complained.”

Bloomberg, which first reported the lawsuit, cited the alleged company practice of “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.”

A company rep tells Axios, “The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.”

The spokesman also claims that while Activision Blizzard tried to cooperate with the department’s two year investigation, “they refused to inform us what issues they perceived,” and stated, “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.”

Employees were not particularly moved by this, with one source telling Axios that workers are “furious” and said the response felt like “being gaslit by leadership.”

While older gamers may remember Activision as the fun, feisty upstart behind such Atari 2600 classics as Kaboom! and Pitfall!, its present incarnation has outlets including TheGamer, GameXplain, and Prima Games suspending their coverage of the hobbyist juggernaut.

With some feeling that Activision Blizzard is dismissive of the charges, a clip from Blizzcon 2010 has started making the rounds again. In the segment, a woman is derided by World of Warcraft designers—including Blizzard Blizzard president J. Allen Brack—when she asks “if we could have some [female characters] who don’t look like they just stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog.”

In a statement released on Twitter Friday night, Blizzard cofounder Mike Morhaime—who left the company in 2019—said, in part, “Harassment and discrimination…are prevalent in our industry. It is the responsibility of leadership to keep all employees feeling safe, supported, and treated equitably, regardless of gender and background. It is the responsibility of leadership to stamp out toxicity and harassment in any form, across all levels of the company. To the Blizzard women who experienced any of these things, I am extremely sorry that I failed you.”

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