The State of California Is Suing Blizzard Following Investigation Into Abuse

Content Warning: Sexual harassment/abuse, suicide

This isn’t an easy topic to talk about. It’s not fun, it’s not feel-good, and it’s certainly not something you want to hear about.

But this is an industry-wide issue, and needs to be discussed.

In case you’re not up to date, here’s the situation. Activision Blizzard is currently being sued by the Californian Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) for Discrimination and Sexual Harassment following a two-year investigation into the company’s ‘frat boy’ culture.

Details of the lawsuit were first released in Maeve Allsup’s Bloomberg report, released last week, along with the full lawsuit documentation. DFEH’s case involves accusations of both sexual harassment and various forms of discrimination, with many accusations drawn at members of Activision Blizzard’s upper management

Regarding the accusations of sexual harassment, here are the details we currently have:

  • The state of California is suing Activision Blizzard for discrimination and sexual harassment.
  • The investigation originates from pay discrepancies; wherein female employees were paid less than their male counterparts for significantly similar work.
  • Female employees are offered lower compensation at hire, assigned to lower paid and less opportunity levels and roles.
  • Female employees are also awarded less incentive or equity pay opportunities.
  • There are examples where women were specifically denied career advancements and promotional opportunities.
  • Women were subject to horrible sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • People who reported these to HR were then subject to retaliation from Blizzard.

The full legal documentation and survivor statements go into further detail. Women were subjected to “Cube Crawls” where male employees would get drunk, then crawl their way through the various cubicles in the office and start acting exceedingly inappropriate towards their female co-workers. Some of this behaviour includes groping, unwanted physical touching, and other forms of harassment. In one instance, a woman noted that random male employees would approach her and comment on her breasts. Alex Afrasiabi, former Senior Creative Director for World of Warcraft used his Seniority to his advantage and would engage in blatant sexual harassment with nothing in the way of repercussions. In fact, his suite was nicknamed the “Cosby Suite” named after alleged rapist Bill Cosby.

The most heart-breaking example of this all is when one female employee committed suicide while on a company trip due to a sexual relationship that she had been having with her male supervisor. Another employee confirmed that the deceased had been suffering from extensive sexual harassment at work prior to her death. To be specific, male co-workers were alleged to have been passing around her nude pictures.

The lawsuit also details numerous instances of discrimination at Blizzard based on gender, with POC at particular risk of unfair and criminal prejudice. Below are just a few of the details outlined in the lawsuit:

  • Some women were passed over for promotions in favour of male counterparts because the men were friends with the other male head of the unit.
  • One newly promoted man made his female subordinates do his work so he could play Call of Duty.
  • Male supervisors would refuse to talk to the female employees in favour of going to their male counterparts for information.
  • In one example provided, a female employee had taken on some additional responsibilities akin to a manager. However, when she asked her male supervisor about being paid for the additional work she was doing and officially being promoted into the role, he told her that they couldn’t risk promoting her in case she got pregnant and liked being a mother too much.
  • Supervisors ignored medical restrictions given to female employees and gave them negative reviews while they were out on maternity leave.
  • Other women reported that they were criticised for leaving to pick up their children from day care.
  • Women were kicked out of Lactation Rooms so employees could use the room for meetings. (WHAT?!)
  • Women of colour were particularly vulnerable to this behaviour. One African American employee noted that it took her two years to become a permanent employee, while men hired after her were made permanent sooner.
  • In one particularly gross case, a supervisor would call to check if a female employee took a break to go on a walk, meanwhile her male co-workers were known to be playing video games.
  • An African American employee was forced to write a one-page summary of what her plan was when she took annual leave. This process was not enforced on to any other person within her team. The same employee was also criticised for her body language, despite her male counterparts slouching in meetings.

Following the Bloomberg report, Activision Blizzard released the following statement:

“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 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.”

There have also been an outpouring of statements from Blizzard employees, both previous and current, all over Twitter, which have been compiled by mods of the World of Warcraft subreddit

President of Blizzard, J. Allen Brack sent out an email to Blizzard staff shortly after the report was released, providing his thoughts on the situation, with a similar email sent out by Fran Townsend, an executive at Activision Blizzard. Both of these emails can be found onTwitter.

Editor’s Note: Back in March Blizzard hired a new chief administrative officer, Brian Bulatao, a former Donald Trump administration member described multiple times as a ‘bully’. Do with this information what you will. – Jesse

When reading over these responses, it is hard to forget that these accusations haven’t just been thrown out by the DFEH with no proper forethought or due diligence. The suit comes as the result of a TWO YEAR LONG  investigation by the state of California, with countless investigations and interviews conducted to come to the end conclusion. Every single person who has and continues to speak up about this is a true champion and hero. Bloomberg’s  Jason Schreier has openly said he will listen to anyone else who wishes to come forward, with victims given full anonymity.

I sincerely encourage every reader of this article to read all the information provided to us. The situation continues to evolve each day, as more and more brave employees both current and former corroborate and testify against their corrupt abusers.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only case of abuse and harassment to occur in the video games industry over the past few years. Claims of unfair and illegal work practices have been made towards other industry giants such as Ubisoft, Riot, Rockstar, Naughty Dog, and many others. Ubisoft in particular is still under scrutiny despite promising to improve their conditions. A recent survey showed that approximately 25% of Ubisoft employees have been subject to or witnessed sexual harassment while at work.

Personally, I’m so sick and tired of hearing about this sort of bullshit in an industry I love so much. It hurts every time, so I have no idea what victims of this behaviour must be going through. Change needs to happen across this entire industry. We need to listen to victims, we need to change our behaviour, we need to make this space safe for everyone and, if you’re in a position of privilege like myself, help call this bullshit out.

For me, part of this change means no more games from Activision/Blizzard until they enact some meaningful and permanent changes. It is clear that money means more than people for some of these companies, so I can do my part in hitting them where it hurts. Judging by the fact a number of high profile Hearthstone, Overwatch and Diablo Twitch streamers are taking a similar stance, the hit should be hard. Everyone is going to go about this in different ways, which are all valid, but I just can’t stomach supporting people like this anymore. 

Life is hard enough as it is, so don’t make it worse for others. Stay safe and look after each other.

If any of this article has made you feel like you’re in a dark place, please seek help if you feel you need it, whether that’s friends, family or some of services and resources linked below
A list of Suicide Hotlines:
Suicide Hotline FAQ:
Self-Help resources:

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