Content warning: The following article discusses sexual harassment, sexual abuse and suicide.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for "violations of the state's civil rights and equal pay laws" regarding its treatment of women.
The lawsuit is the result of a two-year investigation into the studio by the state agency, Bloomberg reported, and describes Activision Blizzard's alleged "frat boy" culture, a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women."
The lawsuit describes an atmosphere where women have to "continually fend off unwanted sexual comments and advances by their male co-workers" and are "being groped" at what the document describes as "cube crawls."
"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," the lawsuit reads. "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."
The document goes on explaining the tragic consequences of this alleged constant sexual harassment, with a female employee dying by suicide "during a business trip with a male supervisor who had brought butt plugs and lubricant with him."
The DFEH reports that numerous complaints were made to HR and management, including to Blizzard Entertainment's J. Allen Brack, to no avail.
"Employees were further discouraged from complaining as human resource personnel were known to be close to alleged harassers," the lawsuit says. "As a result of these complaints, female employees were subjected to retaliation, including but not limited to being deprived of work on projects, unwillingly transferred to different units, and selected for layoffs."
The lawsuit also highlights a pay gap between genders across all roles and seniority levels.
"These discriminatory practices began at hire when women were offered lower compensation and less lucrative job assignments and opportunities than their male counterparts," the document reads.
The pay gap went all the way to the most senior roles, with chief people officer Claudine Naughton having a yearly salary of $655,000 in 2020 while, for example, president and chief operating officer Daniel Alegre had a salary of over $1 million. The salary of Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has been under fire over last year, with the exec recently taking a 50% pay cut.
The lawsuit also says that women at Activision Blizzard have to "work harder and longer" to earn promotions and be given the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
GamesIndustry.biz reached out to Activision Blizzard for comment, with a spokesperson denying all the accusations from the DFEH lawsuit and saying it is "not the Blizzard workplace of today."
"The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past," they said. "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."
They went on saying that the "inaccurate" complaint was "rushed," and condemned "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."
They added that Activision Blizzard "fosters a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone" and that significant changes have been made to address Activision Blizzard's company culture in recent years and "reflect more diversity within our leadership teams." The company's leadership team can be seen on this page.
Actions taken by the company to foster a healthy workplace culture include an updated code of conduct to "emphasize a strict non-retaliation focus," internal channels to report violations, a confidential integrity hotline, and the creation of an Employee Relations team, the spokesperson listed. All Activision Blizzard employees must also undergo regular anti-harassment training.
"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."