The video game company behind World of Warcraft and Candy Crush is being sued over allegations of its “frat boy culture” and treatment toward its female employees.
California’s department of fair employment and housing (DFEH) filed suit against Activision Blizzard Inc in California’s superior court after a two-year investigation into the company revealed discrimination against women generally and pregnant employees, sexual harassment, retaliation and unequal pay.
The company said it was cooperative with the agency in its investigation, and that the DFEH refused to inform them of certain allegations it had discovered. In cases of misconduct in the past, Activision Blizzard Inc said “action was taken” to address issues.
The company called the allegations in the complaint “distorted, and in many cases, false”, and said it valued diversity in the workplace and inclusivity for everyone.
The DFEH issued its investigation’s findings in June and said it had tried to resolve the issue without litigation, but three sessions of mediation with company management this month failed to do that.
The complaint says Activision Blizzard Inc, one of the largest American video game developers and distributors, “fostered a sexist culture” and that female employees receive a lower starting pay and earn less than males doing similar work.
The company responded to the allegations by saying the “picture” the agency painted was not “the Blizzard workplace of today”. It cited new anti-harassment trainings, a confidential tip line for employees to report violations and performance-based compensation as its efforts to improve.
The agency said it was bringing the suit on behalf of itself and all aggrieved female employees. It is seeking punitive and compensatory damages, penalties under the Equal Pay Act, injunctive relief, and any back pay that could be determined later.
The leadership of the company is primarily male and white, and only 20% of its 9,500 employees are women.
The DFEH also said the organization fostered a “pervasive frat boy workplace culture that continues to thrive”. Plaintiffs said in the office, women were “subjected to ‘cube crawls’”, which involved males drinking excessively as they crawled their way through various cubicles and engaged in inappropriate behavior towards the women.
The investigation also found that male employees showed up to work hungover, played video games while delegating their responsibilities to female employees, and joked about rape and their sexual encounters. One male supervisor allegedly told a male subordinate to “buy” a prostitute to cure his bad mood.
In another scenario outlined in the complaint, the company refused to deal with a former senior creative director for the company, Alex Afrasiabi, who the department said was “permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussion”. That included hitting on female employees, telling them he wanted to marry them, and putting his arms around them, to the point that other male employees had to “pull him off female employees”.
The president of Blizzard Entertainment had a chat with him about his drinking and that he had been “too friendly” toward the employees at company events, the suit says. But Afrasiabi continued the advances and groping. He left the company June 2020, and his social media profiles have been deleted. A publicly listed number for Afrasiabi did not yield a voicemail or a pick up.
“I’m going to come out and say it. I was one of these women. My incident happened in 2013 at BlizzCon. I didn’t say anything officially until I decided to leave the company last year, because of the name recognition and fear of retaliation,” wrote Stephanie Krutsick, a former producer for the company, on Twitter.