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Activision Blizzard has been sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for sex discrimination in the workplace.

The company that makes games including World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Call of Duty is accused of having a “frat boy” culture in which female employees are subjected to harassment, unequal pay, retaliation, and a failure to prevent harassment, the lawsuit said.

That’s a sharp contrast to how the company described itself in its recent report on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) commitments. In that report, Activision Blizzard said that, since 2016, there has been a two-times increase of women in game development leadership roles. And promotion rates for minorities and non-minorities are equal, and the promotion rate for women is slightly higher than the rate for men. In a statement (included below), the company today said the allegations do not represent the company of today, and it has taken actions to deal with past misconduct.

The lawsuit comes after a two-year investigation by the state agency. It said the company discriminated against female employees in conditions of employment such as compensation, assignment, promotion, and termination. The company leadership consistently failed to take steps to prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, the agency said.

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In a way, these kinds of allegations are familiar, as Riot Games, the maker of League of Legends and a neighbor of Activision Blizzard in Los Angeles, also faced charges of sexual harassment against women and had to pay a $10 million settlement in 2019. French video game publisher Ubisoft also faced numerous #MeToo allegations about sexual harassment in the past year as well.

Call of Duty: Warzone.

Above: Call of Duty: Warzone is one of Activision Blizzard’s big games.

Image Credit: Activision Blizzard

The complaint was filed Tuesday in the Los Angeles Superior Court. Women are 20% of the Activision workforce, and are subjected to a “pervasive frat boy workplace culture.” That culture allegedly encouraged and tolerated sexual banter, jokes about rape, unwanted propositions, and other demeaning behavior, the suit alleged.

The suit said a female Activision employee took life while on a company trip with a male supervisor. The employee was allegedly subjected to intense sexual harassment prior to her death, including having nude photos passed around at a company holiday party, the complaint said.

The agency asked for an injunction forcing compliance with workplace protections. It also asked the company to pay unpaid wages, pay adjustments, provide back pay, and lost wages and benefits for female employees.

As of December 31, 2020, Activision Blizzard had 9,630 employees, up from 9,234 a year earlier. Women are 24% of the overall employees, while underrepresented minorities are 34% of the overall base. The company said in its own report it is trying to improve those ratios, but it’s not dissimilar from the overall game industry. The company has nine employee networks dedicated to becoming a more inclusive company.

Here’s the response from the company:

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 updated our Code of Conduct to emphasize a strict non-retaliation focus, 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.

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