Activision Blizzard is the target of a lawsuit from the state of California that accuses it of promoting a “frat boy culture” and permitting numerous instances of sexual harassment and other gender-based discrimination, primarily at its Blizzard offices in California. The suit, which can be read in full here, is the result of a two-year investigation by the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. It alleges that women at Blizzard received lower pay than their male counterparts in similar roles, were passed over for promotion, and were subjected to different standards regarding their work behavior and activities.
Among the accusations presented in the suit include the “cube crawl,” wherein male employees would “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.” In one unfortunate case, a female employee committed suicide while on a business trip with a male supervisor; a photo of her genitals had reportedly been passed around at a holiday party prior to the trip.
One woman was passed over for promotion because her male supervisor said he “could not risk promoting her as she might get pregnant and like being a mom too much.” Women of color are also alleged to have been discriminated against at the company. One African-American woman is said to have been micromanaged to the point that she had to write a one-page summary detailing what she would do with a day off. Another’s supervisor checked up on her if she took a break to take a walk.
The result of all these actions were “significant” gender pay gaps and a tendency for women to leave the company. Complaints to human resources “fell on deaf ears or were met with an empty promise to investigate the issue,” the suit alleges.
Only one (former) Blizzard employee is named specifically for his actions. The former senior creative director of World of Warcraft, Alex Afrasiabi, is alleged to have been “permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions,” due to his seniority. Blizzard President J. Allen Brack “allegedly had multiple conversations with Afrasiabi” about his behavior but ultimately gave him just a “slap on the wrist (i.e., verbal counseling) in response to these incidents.” Afrasiabi left the company last year.
A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard responded to the suit with a lengthy statement, saying that the suit includes “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” It claims that the DFEH “rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court” and that the suit’s mention of the employee who committed suicide is an “disgraceful and unprofessional” and “an example of how they have conducted themselves throughout the course of their investigation.”
Blizzard’s statement said that the suit is “not the Blizzard workplace of today” and that “we’ve made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams.” If some or all the allegations about past behavior are true, that’s still a black mark on the company, and the demands of the employees who were wronged by the actions of Blizzard employees have merit, even if Blizzard has mended its ways since.