Rich Polk / Getty Images for Activision
The video game studio behind the successful Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Candy Crush franchises faces a civil lawsuit in California over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and potential violations of the law. State pay equality.
Complaint, filed Wednesday by the State Department for Fair Employment and Housing, alleges Activision Blizzard Inc. “fostered a sexist culture” where women were paid less than men and subjected to continued sexual harassment including groping. (Activision and Blizzard Entertainment merged in 2008.)
Officials at the gaming company were aware of the harassment and not only failed to stop it, but also retaliated against the women who spoke out, according to the complaint.
Years after the online harassment campaign known as Gamergate targeting women in the gaming world, the California lawsuit paints an industry that can still be unwelcoming and even hostile to female employees.
“All employers must ensure that their employees are paid equally and take all measures to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation,” said Kevin Kish, Director of DFEH. “This is especially important for employers in male-dominated industries, such as technology and games.”
In a statement provided to NPR, a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard said the company has worked to improve its corporate culture in recent years and accused the DFEH of not trying to adequately resolve claims against it before resorting to legal action.
“The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past,” the statement read. “The image that the DFEH paints is not today’s Blizzard workplace.”
Female employees were paid less and assigned to lower-level positions, complaint claims
The lawsuit alleges that Activision Blizzard workers who spoke to investigators “almost universally confirmed” that their time at the company was “akin to working in a fraternity house.”
Male employees drank at work and came to work with hangovers, according to the lawsuit. The alleged sexual harassment ranged from comments about women’s bodies and rape jokes to unwanted touching of female employees by their male peers.
The complaint, which was the result of a two-year investigation by the DFEH, claims that the unequal treatment of women went beyond corporate culture to touch on the more formal aspects of their work.
Women are said to have been paid less than men, both at the time of their hiring and during their employment. They have also been assigned to lower-level positions and transferred for promotions, although they do more work than their male peers in some cases, according to the lawsuit. A woman said her manager told her she would not be promoted because “she could get pregnant and love being a mom too”.
Gender discrimination was even worse for women of color, the lawsuit claims. At least two African-American women said they were distinguished and micro-managed.
Some of the women who filed complaints of discrimination or harassment were subject to involuntary transfers, were screened for layoffs or were denied certain opportunities, according to the lawsuit.
Activision Blizzard says it does not tolerate sexual misconduct
Activision Blizzard, in its statement, said it does not tolerate sexual misconduct or sexual harassment and noted that it investigates all complaints, adding that it makes it easier for employees to report violations.
The company also said it strives to compensate its employees “fairly for equal or substantially similar work” and to ensure that compensation is determined by “non-discriminatory factors”, such as performance.
“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 employees, and we are committed to continuing this effort in the years to come. “said the spokesperson. “It is a pity that the DFEH did not want to discuss with us what it thought it saw in its investigation.”
But several former employees took to social media on Wednesday after the complaint was filed to corroborate some of the allegations it contained.
“Blizzard claimed that the DFEH report was false / misleading / irresponsible,” said Cher Scarlett, former employee of Blizzard Entertainment. tweeted. “I can tell you that I knew what was going to be in this report before I read it because during my time there – for only a YEAR – I witnessed ALL OF THESE THINGS.”