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Activision Blizzard Sued Over ‘Frat Boy’ Culture, Harassment (1)

July 21, 2021, 7:25 PM; Updated: July 22, 2021, 2:59 AM

Video game giant Activision Blizzard Inc., maker of games including World of Warcraft and Diablo, fosters a “frat boy” culture in which female employees are subjected to constant sexual harassment, unequal pay, and retaliation, according to a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

A two-year investigation by the state agency found that the company discriminated against female employees in terms and conditions of employment, including compensation, assignment, promotion, and termination. Company leadership consistently failed to take steps to prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, the agency said.

According to the complaint, filed Tuesday in the Los Angeles Superior Court, female employees make up around 20% of the Activision workforce, and are subjected to a “pervasive frat boy workplace culture,” including “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 agency alleges male employees play video games during the workday while delegating responsibilities to female employees, engage in sexual banter, and joke openly about rape, among other things.

Female employees allege being held back from promotions because of the possibility they might become pregnant, being criticized for leaving to pick their children up from daycare, and being kicked out of lactation rooms so male colleagues could use the room for meetings, the complaint says.

Female employees working for the World of Warcraft team noted that male employees and supervisors would hit on them, make derogatory comments about rape, and otherwise engage in demeaning behavior, the agency alleges.

The suit also points to a female Activision employee who took her own life while on a company trip with her male supervisor. The employee had been subjected to intense sexual harassment prior to her death, including having nude photos passed around at a company holiday party, the complaint says.

The agency 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.

“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 in a statement. “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 statement continued.

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

Causes of Action: Employment discrimination because of sex; retaliation; failure to prevent discrimination and harassment; unequal pay.

Relief: Compensatory damages; punitive damages; unpaid wages; injunctive relief; declaratory relief; equitable relief; pre-judgment interest; attorneys’ fees; costs.

Attorneys: Internal counsel represents the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

The case is Calif. Dep’t of Fair Emp. & Housing v. Activision Blizzard Inc., Cal. Super. Ct., No. 21stcv26571, 7/20/21.

(Updated to include comment from Activision Blizzard.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Maeve Allsup in San Francisco at mallsup@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Meghashyam Mali at mmali@bloombergindustry.com

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