A judge has ordered Activision Blizzard to pay $18 million to settle a federal lawsuit accusing the company of fostering a sexist, discriminatory workplace. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the suit in September and that same afternoon, Activision Blizzard agreed to set up an $18 million fund for employees who experienced sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination at the studio. Today's ruling approves this plan.
The fund will be distributed among people who worked at Activision Blizzard from September 1st, 2016, to today. Eligible employees and former employees have to opt-in to receive a payout, and they can submit claims relating to sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination and retaliation.
Today's ruling isn't the end of the legal issues for Activision Blizzard, and it may even complicate efforts still underway by other agencies. California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing first sued the studio in July 2021 following a two-year investigation into allegations that sexism, gender-based harassment and a "frat boy culture" pervaded the Activision Blizzard offices. That state-level lawsuit is still in progress, while the $18 million ruling today applies only to the federal case filed by the EEOC.
Anyone who signs on as a claimant in the EEOC suit will not be eligible to participate in the state's case, at least when it comes to harassment, retaliation or pregnancy discrimination. If they have additional claims, such as pay inequities, they can bring those to the DFEH lawsuit.
The DFEH and EEOC have been battling for dominance with their lawsuits against Activision Blizzard. Lawyers for the California agency have expressed concern that a federal settlement might prevent them from pursuing additional damages at a state level. The DFEH case is scheduled to go to trial in February 2023.
"The DFEH will continue to vigorously prosecute its action against Activision in California state court,” spokesperson Fahizah Alim said last week.
Additionally, the DFEH, activists and Activision Blizzard employees have argued the $18 million figure is far too low to properly compensate all potential claimants, which could add up to hundreds of people. Communications Workers of America, the labor union backing Activision Blizzard employees during this time, called the sum "woefully inadequate" in a letter to the EEOC in October.
"This would provide the maximum settlement for only 60 workers," the CWA letter reads. "If any significant number of workers received the maximum under federal law, there would be little available for many other workers adversely affected. We are concerned about how the EEOC got to that number and how it believes that number will be fairly distributed. Please explain."
California's DFEH fought against a similar ruling in the case of Riot Games. Following a 2018 class-action lawsuit claiming rampant sexual harassment and discrimination at the studio, Riot was originally ordered to pay $10 million to eligible employees. The DFEH blocked that payout, arguing it was much too small, and the amount was eventually increased to $100 million.
A spokesperson for the EEOC provided the following statement to Engadget following today's federal ruling: "We are pleased that the judge has indicated her intent to sign the consent decree. The consent decree not only provides monetary relief to potential claimants that were impacted by sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination and related retaliation at Activision Blizzard throughout the United States, but also puts in place significant injunctive relief at Activision Blizzard to prevent and address discrimination, harassment, and retaliation."