Activision Blizzard sued by California over alleged sexist 'frat boy' culture

Female employees deal with constant sexual harassment, the complaint said.

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Activision Blizzard is facing a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for fostering what the agency describes as a "frat boy" workplace. As first reported by Bloomberg Law, the DFEH sued the gaming giant after a two-year investigation wherein it came to the conclusion that the company discriminated against female employees. In addition to receiving smaller salaries than their male counterparts, female employees were also allegedly subjected to constant sexual harassment.

The DFEH enumerated several findings from its investigation in its complaint (PDF). Activision Blizzard's workforce is only about 20 percent women, and very few of them reach top roles in the company, the court document reads. Further, those who do reach higher roles earn less salary and total compensation than their male peers. Other female employees in non-executive roles are also paid less, promoted more slowly and terminated more quickly.

DFEH also said that the defendant's "frat boy" culture is a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women." Female employees constantly have to fend off unwanted sexual comments, the agency wrote. They have to endure being groped during "cube crawls," in which male employees would drink alcohol as they make their way around various cubicles, as well. The document mentioned one particularly egregious case, in which a female employee took her own life during a business trip with a male supervisor who brought sex toys with him on the trip. According to Bloomberg, that employee was severely harassed prior to her death, with her nude photos passed around during a company holiday party.

Activision Blizzard's HR department received a lot of harassment, discrimination and retaliation complaints, the DFEH said. However, the defendant allegedly failed to take "effective remedial measures in response" to them. Also, people were apparently discouraged from making complaints, since human resource personnel were known to be close to the alleged harassers.

The state agency has filed the lawsuit to force the video game titan to comply with California's workplace protections. It's also seeking unpaid wages and pay adjustments for female employees.

Activision Blizzard, however, denies DEFH's allegations. In a statement, the company said that the agency's lawsuit "includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past." It called the DFEH's complaint "inaccurate" and described the lawsuit as the "type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State's best businesses out of California."

The whole statement, courtesy of Kotaku, reads:

"We value diversity and strive to foster a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone. There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind. We take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue.

The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past. We have been extremely cooperative with the DFEH throughout their investigation, including providing them with extensive data and ample documentation, but they refused to inform us what issues they perceived. They were required by law to adequately investigate and to have good faith discussions with us to better understand and to resolve any claims or concerns before going to litigation, but they failed to do so. Instead, they rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court. We are sickened by the reprehensible conduct of the DFEH to drag into the complaint the tragic suicide of an employee whose passing has no bearing whatsoever on this case and with no regard for her grieving family. While we find this behavior to be disgraceful and unprofessional, it is unfortunately an example of how they have conducted themselves throughout the course of their investigation. It is this type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.

The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today. Over the past several years and continuing since the initial investigation started, we’ve made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams. We’ve updated our Code of Conduct to emphasize a strict non-retaliation focus, amplified internal programs and channels for employees to report violations, including the “ASK List” with a confidential integrity hotline, and introduced an Employee Relations team dedicated to investigating employee concerns. We have strengthened our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and combined our Employee Networks at a global level, to provide additional support. Employees must also undergo regular anti-harassment training and have done so for many years.

We put tremendous effort in creating fair and rewarding compensation packages and policies that reflect our culture and business, and we strive to pay all employees fairly for equal or substantially similar work. We take a variety of proactive steps to ensure that pay is driven by non-discriminatory factors. For example, we reward and compensate employees based on their performance, and we conduct extensive anti-discrimination trainings including for those who are part of the compensation process.

We are confident in our ability to demonstrate our practices as an equal opportunity employer that fosters a supportive, diverse, and inclusive workplace for our people, and we are committed to continuing this effort in the years to come. It is a shame that the DFEH did not want to engage with us on what they thought they were seeing in their investigation."