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California sues Activision-Blizzard over discrimination and sexist, toxic work culture

In a public filing earlier today, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the filing of a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, Inc.; Destiny developer Bungie, Inc.; and Call of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard. The complaint was filed in California Superior Court, alleging that the defendants have violated California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Gender Discrimination Act.

For years, the video game industry has been plagued with sexism, racism, and toxic work culture (hell, even Silicon Valley has been accused of sexism lately). That’s why California is suing the video game industry giant Activision and the video game developer Blizzard for violating California’s civil rights laws.

A California state agency on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard alleging the video game company violated state laws against discrimination and creating a hostile work environment for women. The lawsuit follows a Labor Commission ruling in February that found that Activision had illegally fired at least three female employees because they were pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

Oh gosh why.

Activision-Blizzard has had a terrible couple of years, and things are about to become lot worse, as the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has launched a civil rights and equal pay case on behalf of the company’s victims.

According to Bloomberg Law, the DFEH claims that Activision Blizzard discriminated against women in everything from pay and incentives to promotions and executive representation throughout its multi-year inquiry. Pregnant and possibly pregnant women, as well as female workers of race, were allegedly discriminated against.

The situation only gets worse from there, according to the California agency, which claims that Activision-Blizzard promotes a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ workplace culture” that includes rape jokes, “cube crawls,” sexual harassment, groping, and so on. The lawsuit claims that victims were “discouraged” from reporting the harassment because of “many” complaints filed to no less than J. Allen Brack. Alex “Furor” Afrasiabi, a former World of Warcraft developer, has been recognized as a serial harasser.

The DFEH relates to the death of a female employee who had been having a relationship with her male boss and had been harassed by coworkers who were reportedly sending around pictures of her genitalia.

The California DFEH is being sued for compensatory and punitive damages, unpaid salaries, relief, and lawyers’ costs. If that department sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same state agency that’s suing Riot Games for identical harassment and discrimination allegations, as well as a reluctance to participate completely with the state’s investigation.

Instead of respectfully refusing to comment on pending litigation, Blizzard released a statement in which it basically disputed the majority of the complaint, claimed it had changed its work culture in the two years since the inquiry started, and then attacked the DFEH directly and repeatedly.

“We are horrified by the DFEH’s heinous behavior in dragging into the complaint the sad suicide of an employee whose death has nothing to do with this issue and who has no respect for her bereaved family. While we find this behavior disgusting and unethical, it is sadly representative of how they handled themselves throughout their inquiry. This kind of reckless conduct by unaccountable State officials is pushing many of California’s finest companies out of the state.”

To see the full news release from Blizzard, click here.

“We appreciate diversity and try to create an environment that is welcoming to everyone. Sexual misconduct or harassment of any sort has no place in our business, industry, or any industry. Every complaint is taken seriously, and all allegations are investigated. In instances of misbehavior, steps were taken to remedy the problem.

“The DFEH contains skewed and, in many instances, inaccurate accounts of Blizzard’s history. We cooperated fully with the DFEH throughout their inquiry, including supplying them with a large amount of data and paperwork, yet they refused to tell us any problems they found. They were obliged by law to conduct an appropriate investigation and engage in good faith talks with us in order to better understand and address any claims or concerns before proceeding to action, but they did not. Instead, as we will show in court, they hurried to submit an incorrect complaint. The DFEH’s despicable behavior in dragging into the complaint the sad suicide of an employee whose death has no impact on this matter and with no respect for her mourning family sickens us. While we find this behavior disgusting and unethical, it is sadly representative of how they handled themselves throughout their inquiry. This kind of reckless conduct by unaccountable State officials is pushing many of California’s finest companies out of the state.

“The DFEH portrays a Blizzard workplace that does not exist today. We’ve made substantial adjustments to address corporate culture and reflect greater diversity among our leadership teams over the last few years, and we’ve continued to do so after the original inquiry began. We’ve revised our Code of Conduct to highlight a strong anti-retaliation policy, expanded internal programs and channels for workers to report issues, such as the “ASK List” with a confidential integrity hotline, and hired an Employee Relations team to look into employee complaints. To offer extra assistance, we have reinforced our commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion by combining our Employee Networks on a worldwide basis. Employees are also required to get regular anti-harassment training, which they have done for many years.

“We invest a lot of effort into developing fair and satisfying compensation packages and practices that represent our company’s culture and values, and we try to compensate all workers fairly for work that is equal or substantially comparable. We take a number of proactive measures to ensure that non-discriminatory factors influence wages. We, for example, recognize and pay workers based on their performance, and we have comprehensive anti-discrimination trainings for all employees, including those involved in the remuneration process.

“We are confident in our capacity to show our practices as an equal opportunity employer that promotes a supportive, diverse, and inclusive environment for our employees, and we are dedicated to doing so in the years ahead. It’s a pity the DFEH refused to talk to us about what they believed they saw during their investigation.”

Support for the studio’s employees, on the other hand, has already started to pour in. Stephanie Krutsick, a former Blizzard producer, named herself as a victim of one of the Alex Afrasiabi events and criticized the studio’s “lack of responsibility.” Jennifer Klasing, a former World of Warcraft employee who claims she isn’t named or mentioned in the case, but the complaint “tracks with what [she’s] seen and heard.” She wrote, “At Blizzard, there are really wonderful, helpful, and egalitarian individuals.” “There is no doubt about it. I’m still friends with a lot of them. Others, on the other hand, were not. They were permitted to flourish.”

Readers will recall that Activision-recent Blizzard’s years have been marked by mass layoffs, the hugely unpopular Blitzchung incident and ensuing boycott, shady stock deals, an exodus of veteran developers (“our mentors are leaving in droves”), even more layoffs, a labor uprising, a scandal over Bobby Kotick’s exorbitant pay, collapsing playerbases, shareholder vote shenanigans, Blizzard pressured female workers with gift cards to use an app that monitored their reproductive activities, from when they had sex to “the look of their cervical fluid,” according to a frightening article released by WAPO in 2019. These intrusive procedures, according to a Blizzard vice president at the time, would help them have a healthy kid and concentrate more on work “because it’s excellent for our business experience.” That is to say, none of this comes as a surprise.


California has cited a “toxic work environment” in a lawsuit that alleges Activision-Blizzard Games and its parent company, Activision Blizzard, Inc., discriminated against female and minority employees. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by the state Attorney General on behalf of artists Taylor Swift, former Overwatch developer Tricia Buckner, and Overwatch director Dawn Marie Thomas.. Read more about activision blizzard lawsuit document and let us know what you think.

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Greg Baskerville
Greg Baskerville
Gaming Blogger & Musician. Playing games since the Amiga days in the 1980's, and a handy guitarist.

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