Activision Blizzard, one of the largest publishers in the video game industry, has been sued by the state of California, which claims the company has “fostered a pervasive frat boy workplace culture.”
The lawsuit, which was filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on Tuesday and first reported by Bloomberg on Wednesday, describes a variety of issues concerning sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the Santa Monica-based company, which publishes major titles such as “World of Warcraft,” “Candy Crush,” and the “Call of Duty” series.
“In the office, women are subjected to ‘cube crawls’ in which male employees drink copious amounts of alcohol as they ‘crawl’ their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees,” an excerpt of the lawsuit reads. “Male employees proudly come into work hungover, play video games for long periods of time during work while delegating their responsibilities to female employees, engage in banter about their sexual encounters, talk openly about female bodies, and joke about rape.”
California’s lawsuit also states that Activision Blizzard’s top leadership is “exclusively male and white,” claiming its workforce consists of only about 20 percent women, who are typically paid less than their male colleagues.
The lawsuit provided several specific examples of sexual harassment at the company, including an allegation that a female Activision Blizzard employee committed suicide while on a company trip due to her sexual relationship with a male supervisor; at a holiday party before her death, male co-workers allegedly shared pictures of the deceased employee’s genitalia.
The state agency also alleged in the lawsuit that “numerous complaints about unlawful harassment, discrimination, and retaliation” were made to the company’s human resources department, but “employee’s complaints were treated in a perfunctory and dismissive manner and not kept confidential.” Female employees who submitted complaints were targeted for retaliation, including being selected for layoffs, according to the lawsuit.
An Activision Blizzard spokesperson provided a statement to IndieWire arguing that the state agency’s lawsuit includes “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past” and that “this type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats [is what’s] driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”
“The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today,” the Activision Blizzard spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”
Allegations of sexual misconduct and other forms of abuse have been levied against several major video game companies recently. A wave of allegations were made against Ubisoft, the French publisher behind the “Assassin’s Creed,” “Tom Clancy,” and “Far Cry” games, last year, with some employees equating the company’s headquarters to a fraternity house. Riot Games, the publisher and developer behind “League of Legends,” has been subject to a variety of accusations regarding gender discrimination and sexual harassment since 2018.
Activision Blizzard has been the center of several other high-profile controversies in recent years, and California’s lawsuit does not mark the first time that the company has been accused of fostering a sexist workplace environment. The company received criticism for banning professional “Hearthstone” player Ng Wai Chung, also known as Blitzchung, from a gaming tournament and withholding his prize money in 2019 after Chung expressed his support for Hong Kong protestors in an interview. The controversy caused several U.S. politicians, ranging from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, to write an open letter to Activision Blizzard asking the company to reverse its decision. Activision Blizzard also laid off 800 of its employees in 2019 shortly after the company announced that its financial results the year prior were the best in its history.