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California sues Activision Blizzard for alleged sexual harassment and “frat boy” culture

Video game company Activision Blizzard, which makes popular World of Warcraft and Call of Duty video game franchises, has a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ culture” where female employees are sexually harassed and paid and promoted less than their male counterparts. , according to a complaint filed Tuesday by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

The state agency conducted a two-year investigation into the Santa Monica-based company, which has around 9,500 employees, and found that the company systematically discriminates against women, who make up around 20% of its workforce, the agency said.

“Female employees receive lower starting wages and also earn less than male employees for substantially similar work,” the state alleges in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court. “The defendants promote women more slowly and fire them more quickly than their male counterparts. Faced with such unfavorable employment conditions, many women were forced to leave the company.

The lawsuit also describes a “frat boy” culture in which male employees engage in “cube crawls” in the office, where they drink “large amounts of alcohol,” then crawl into the cubicles of team members. and “often engage in inappropriate behavior towards female employees,” including fiddling with them. Women must also “constantly repel unwanted sexual comments and advances from their male colleagues,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit details some of the personal experiences of women in the business, including an employee who took on certain managerial responsibilities and asked a male supervisor to be paid fairly for overtime. The director said they couldn’t risk promoting her “because she might get pregnant and love being a mom too,” according to the lawsuit. Other workers said they were criticized for quitting work to pick up children from daycare and kicked out of breastfeeding rooms to host business meetings.

The lawsuit also details the suicide death of an employee on a corporate trip who was allegedly the victim of workplace harassment, including the release of nude photos by male colleagues at a holiday party.

“We value diversity and strive to foster a work environment that offers inclusiveness for all. There is no place in our business or our industry, or in any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind, ”an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said in a statement. “We take every allegation seriously and investigate all complaints. In cases related to misconduct, action has been taken to resolve the issue. “

The spokesperson said the lawsuit included “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past” and that the picture the Department of Fair Employment and Housing paints is “not the today’s Blizzard workplace “.

Kevin Kish, the head of the department, said it was crucial for companies in industries such as video games to be aware of the dynamics of their workplaces.

“All employers must ensure that their employees are paid equally and take all measures to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation,” said Kevin. “This is especially important for employers in male-dominated industries, such as tech and games. ”

Experts said the lawsuit allegations echoed accusations against other companies in the gaming industry.

“We cannot allow harassment and toxicity to go unchecked. We need to support inclusion and diversity within our industry so that we can all thrive together and also support the development of our future talents, ”said Renee Gittins, Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association, a professional body. for video game makers. .

Gittins said IGDA has developed guides to help game studios implement human resource policies, improve their culture, and prevent toxicity from thriving.

“Together, we can condemn the failures of our industry’s past and take the necessary steps to implement changes that will ensure that this wonderful, creative and diverse industry will support everyone who contributes to it,” she added.

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