Inside a sexual harassment lawsuit against Activision Blizzard

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When the California Fair Employment Agency sued Activision Blizzard, one of the largest video game studios in the world, on July 20, it was not surprising to hear allegations of systemic gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the company. It was no shock to read about how male executives touch their coworkers, or joke loudly about rape in the office, or completely ignore women for promotions. What was it was surprising that California wanted to investigate Activision Blizzard at all, given that these questions seem to have been present since its inception in 1979.

Activision Blizzard is a multibillion-dollar publisher with 9,500 employees and a list of legendary franchises, including Call of Duty, Overwatch, Diablo and World of Warcraft. July 20, California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, arguing that executives had nurtured an environment of misogyny and fraternal rule for years, violating equal pay and labor laws along the way. This is more than dirty jokes in the rest room – the lawsuit highlights clear differences in employment, compensation and professional growth of men and women in Activision Blizzard and gives a picture of ubiquitous sexism and open workplace abuse.

Here is a summary of some of the allegations:

  • Only 20 percent of all Activision Blizzard employees are women.

  • Only whites have leading roles.

  • Across the company, women are paid less, progress more slowly, and get fired faster than men.

  • HR and executives do not take harassment complaints seriously.

  • Women in particular are micro-managed and neglected for the sake of advancement.

  • The ubiquitous culture of dude boys encourages behaviors such as “crawling the dice,” where busy men grope and sexually harass female employees at their desks.

A few weeks have passed since the lawsuit was filed, and employees, managers and players had the opportunity to respond. Meanwhile, additional reports of years of harassment and sexism continue to appear at Activision Blizzard, including photos and stories about the “Cosby Suite,” which is specifically cited in the submission. According to the lawsuit, this was a hotel room where busy men would gather to harass women at events at the company, named after rapist Bill Cosby.

A few days after submitting the application, Kotaku published photos of the alleged Cosby Suite, which shows male Activision Blizzard developers posing on a bed with a framed photo of Bill Cosby at BlizzCon 2013. Screenshots of conversations between developers discussed collecting “hot chicks for Coz” and other offensive, immature things (especially when you remember that they are middle-aged men, not high school students).

One of the only executives actually named in the lawsuit was Blizzard J. CEO Allen Brack, who is said to have routinely ignored systemic harassment and did not punish abusers. Brack called the allegations “extremely worrying”, but this line was brought back to his face on Twitter when he was an independent developer Nels Anderson compared with video outside BlizzCon 2010, with Brack far left.

In the video, a young woman asks for a panel World of Warcraft developers, all six of whom are white, will ever create a female character not known look like she just came out Victoria’s Secret catalog. The panelists laugh and one responds: “Which catalog would you like them to come out of?” They essentially reject her question. At the end of the exchange, Brack piles up and jokes about one of the new characters coming from the sexy cow catalog.

On August 3, just two weeks after California filed the lawsuit, Brack came down from his role as President Blizzard. He will be replaced by CEO Mike Ybarra and Vice President of Development CEO Jen Oneal. Oneal will be the first woman president since the founding of Activision in 1979; the lawsuit notes that there has never been a white president or CEO of Activision Blizzard.

Activision Blizzard first responded to the lawsuit tragically, with one leader calling the accusation unfounded and distorted. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who regularly quarrels with shareholders over the ridiculous wealth he has acquired, has announced own answer to the lawsuit, where he essentially promised to hear her better. Not surprisingly, this did not allay the concerns of many employees. The petition in support of the lawsuits collected more than 2,000 signatures of workers and workers organized an outing only eight days after requesting systemic changes in the study.

Kotick’s response did not encourage shareholders either. Investor applications an additional action against the class action v. Activision Blizzard on August 3, arguing that the company did not raise potential regulatory issues arising from its discriminatory culture. Blizzard’s head of human resources, Jesse Meschuk, also left the company a few weeks after the first lawsuit.

In the meantime, second major game developers gathered behind the lawsuit, and former Activision Blizzard executives did shared their support for employees, excuse for their roles in maintaining the toxic culture of the enterprise.

None of this is new. As photos, videos, statistics, and personal stories from Activision Blizzard show, the company has been in business for decades, and honestly, it has been maintained by an industry that basically works the same way.

In 2019, a wave of accusations against prominent male programmers it crashed into the industry, and AAA studios like Ubisoft and the Riot Games were on the headlines to foster a toxic workplace environment. California did is currently suing Riot due to allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in employment and pay practices.

But even that is not new. Women, non-binary people and marginalized people in the video game industry have literally talked about systemic harassment and discrimination for decades. Sexism is evident in the employment and payment habits of many large studios, and is also clear in the games themselves, which contain an excessive amount straight, white, male protagonists.

What is this time it is surprising that the lawsuit against Activision Blizzard arose out of nowhere. A media report was needed for California to sue Riot 2020, but the lawsuit against Activision Blizzard emerged on its own, after years of a silent investigation led by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. If sexism is systemic in the video game industry, it seems that the system is finally fighting.

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