The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is suing Activision Blizzard for alleged workplace sex discrimination and sexual harassment. The lawsuit also alleges that actions taken by the Call of Duty and World of Warcraft publisher are in violation of Californian Equal Pay law.
Activision Blizzard are on the rocks after bombshell allegations have been unearthed regarding the alleged sexual harassment and discrimination of female employees, as well as violations of California's Equal Pay law.
Numerous examples of toxic workplace culture and sexual discrimination and harassment have been alleged, including the expectation that women would participate in what were termed "Cube Crawls" in the complaint. This was just one of the numerous examples revealed by DFEH.
Update: Since we wrote this piece, Activision settled the lawsuit out of court for $18 million.
Activision Settle Their Case Out-Of-Court [Update, March 30]
Activision have come to an $18 million dollar settlement with the EEOC, and it should be finalized within days. According to the Washington Post, District Judge Dale Fischer is prepared to approve the settlement, and in the final agreement Activision have also promised to increase mental health counseling and offer opportunities for employees to speak openly about their seniors. But as Shannon Liao reports:
The $18 million settlement with the EEOC would be the second largest sexual harassment settlement the agency has ever negotiated. But to critics of the settlement, including the DFEH, a significant number of Activision Blizzard workers and their ally, media labor union Communications Workers of America (CWA), that sum is insufficient for potentially hundreds or more victims. In a letter addressed to the EEOC on Oct. 6, the CWA called $18 million “woefully inadequate” and said Activision Blizzard employees and the CWA had “grave concerns” over the settlement agreement.
And we're in complete agreement, $18 million frankly isn't enough. It's about 12% of what Bobby Kotich reportedly earned in 2021. Which is a depressing figure in itself.
Activision CEO Bobby Kotick Responds to Lawsuit in Company-Wide Email
Activision's CEO Bobby Kotick has responded to the ongoing Activision Blizzard Sex Discrimination and Harassment lawsuit in a company-wide email sent out to staff. In the email, Kotick has not only acknowledged and apologized for the malpractices and offenses alleged in the lawsuit, but has also laid out a five-step plan for how Activision Blizzard will respond.
In a telling sign that the company may be listening to its employees, as well as the Californian Department of Employment and Housing (whom is responsible for both the lawsuit and the previous investigation), Kotick also apologized for the company's initial response last week.
"Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf... I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding."
Additional to apologizing for poor communication on the behalf of the leadership team at Activision Blizzard, Kotick revealed that the company is hiring a law firm to "conduct a review of [Activision Blizzard's] policies and procedures" to ensure that the company maintains "best practices" and promotes "a respectful and inclusive workplace". In addition, he has revealed a five-step plan for how the company will continue to respond. Here is a summary:
- Employee Support, including investigations into each and every claim and swift action on non-compliance and investigation findings.
- Listening Sessions and safe spaces for employees to share ideas on how the company can improve its culture, as well as speak out about issues.
- Personnel Changes, including the re-evaluation of the management and leadership team right across the company.
- Hiring Practices, including actions to ensure that managers have a diverse array of candidates for open positions, including better upwards mobility for women at Activision Blizzard.
- In-game Changes, including action taken to remove inappropriate content from Activision Blizzard's various games.
The company email from Bobby Kotick comes as talk of employee walkout action at Activision Blizzard grows after last week's bombshell allegations, and what many thought was a weak and somewhat inappropriate response from Activision Blizzard's leadership team at the time. See Bobby Kotick's complete response in this Tweet from Charlie Intel:
Breaking: Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick sent out a company wide email today addressing the lawsuit and following responses. Activision has published the email.— CharlieIntel - Call of Duty News (@charlieINTEL) July 28, 2021
"Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf." pic.twitter.com/nttaeX74B4
Former Activision Blizzard Executives Apologize for Company Failures
Activision Blizzard's co-founder and ex-CEO Mike Morhaime has responded to the ongoing Sex Discrimination and Harassment lawsuit launched by the State of California. Additionally, former Senior Vice President of Story and Franchise Development, Chris Metzen, has provided his thoughts over Twitter. Both former executives have apologized for past company failures during their time in leadership, with Metzen acknowledging that "there is no excuse" for the alleged treatment of women at Activision Blizzard.
"I offer you my very deepest apologies for the part I played in a culture that fostered harassment, inequality, and indifference... Words are cheap. Not sure what grand, sweeping promises really do either. Accountability starts with people. Not corporations, or platitudes, or 'values' cast in iron around a statue." -- Chris Metzen via Twitter
Metzen and Morhaime's response to the lawsuit is in stark contrast to the public response of current executives who released a statement late last week claiming that the lawsuit was "irresponsible". The lawsuit, which alleges widespread sexual harassment and apparent systematic sexism and sex discrimination, has spark widespread condemnation throughout the industry.
This is later than it should have been. Here's my response. pic.twitter.com/0h8iF6a1JR— Chris Metzen (@ChrisMetzen) July 24, 2021
Morhaime acknowledged the failures of his leadership that, despite "[trying] very hard to create an environment that was safe and welcoming for people of all genders and backgrounds", failed to achieve that goal. He also acknowledged the mistreatment and harassment of women at Activision Blizzard. His extensive response to Activision Blizzard's Sex Discrimination and Harassment Lawsuit can be found, and read in full, on TwitLonger.
[UPDATE] July 27, 2021
Activision Blizzard Employees Sign Open Letter Rejecting Management's Response to the Lawsuit
Over 1000 Activision Blizzard employees have signed an open letter, directed at the company's leadership. The open letter disavows the response of Activision Blizzard's leadership team in the strongest possible terms. The letter reads:
To the Leaders of Activision Blizzard,
We, the undersigned, agree that the statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as the subsequent internal statement from Frances Townsend, are abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for. To put it clearly and unequivocally, our values as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership.
We believe these statements have damaged our ongoing quest for equality inside and outside of our industry. Categorizing the claims that have been made as “distorted, and in many cases false” creates a company atmosphere that disbelieves victims. It also casts doubt on our organizations’ ability to hold abusers accountable for their actions and foster a safe environment for victims to come forward in the future. These statements make it clear that our leadership is not putting our values first. Immediate corrections are needed from the highest level of our organization. Our company executives have claimed that actions will be taken to protect us, but in the face of legal action -- and the troubling official responses that followed -- we no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests. To claim this is a “truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit” while seeing so many current and former employees speak out about their own experiences regarding harassment and abuse is simply unacceptable.
We call for official statements that recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault. We call on Frances Townsend to stand by her word to step down as Executive Sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network as a result of the damaging nature of her statement. We call on the executive leadership team to work with us on new and meaningful efforts that ensure employees -- as well as our community -- have a safe place to speak out and come forward.
We stand with all our friends, teammates, and colleagues, as well as the members of our dedicated community who have experienced mistreatment or harassment of any kind. We will not be silenced, we will not stand aside, and we will not give up until the company we love is a workplace we can all feel proud to be a part of again. We will be the change. -- Source: Bloomberg
Whether the employees will have their requests listened to is uncertain. Especially during a period of litigation, management is likely worried that it'll be perceived as an admission of guilt. Regardless, we urge you to share the story as widely as you can. Having seen events similar to these before, and we're aware of the unfortunate truth that these scandals can be all too easily forgotten. Let's keep the conversation going.
[UPDATE] July 22, 2021
Activision Blizzard Issue Statement to IGN, Deny Allegations
In a Statement issued to IGN, Activision Blizzard have categorically denied allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination. In the press release, Activision Blizzard claim that they "value diversity and strive to foster a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone."
In response to claims made by the DFEH, Activision Blizzard have claimed that they have been cooperative with all investigations. Implied in the press release was that the Activision Blizzard believe that the DFEH did not adequately investigate and communicate findings with them prior to litigation. To quote: "Instead, they rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court."
Additionally, Activision Blizzard claimed that not only was the image that the DFEH painted of the company's workplace is an outdated and unfair representation. According to the publisher, they have put in place various systems and Codes of Conduct to combat historical cases of discrimination and sexual harassment: "We’ve made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams."
In regards to the female employee who committed suicide, they said the following:
"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."
We chose to, in particular, emphasize this paragraph for a reason. Activision Blizzard has not only denied the allegations of sex-based discrimination and harassment as a significant part of working for them, but have also denied that their employees passing is at all related to these issues. This will have a significant bearing on the case, though what form that particular effect is yet to be seen.
[Original Article] July 22, 2021
Activision Blizzard Sued for Sex Discrimination and Harassment
In documents acquired by EarlyGame, DFEH allege that female employees were subject to sexual harassment "with no repercussion", as a form of "frat boy culture". In some cases, female employees were allegedly touched inappropriately by male employees.
"In the office [Blizzard Entertainment], 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 behaviour toward female employees." -- Excerpt from Lawsuit DFEH vs. Activision Blizzard, Page 4, Article 5.
One particularly horrendous case resulted in the suicide of a female employee who had been having a sexual relationship with her male supervisor. It is alleged that, prior to the woman's suicide on a company trip, pictures of her genitalia had been passed around by male employees during a holiday party.
In the below Tweet, former Activision Blizzard employee Stephanie Krutsick revealed that she was harassed and discriminated against at the company. Citing an incident that happened at BlizzCon in 2013, Krutsick claims "I didn't say anything officially until I decided to leave the company last year, because of the name recognition and fear of retaliation."
I'm going to come out and say it.— Stephanie "The Vaxxed" KrutsickUS (@skrutsick) July 22, 2021
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. https://t.co/gzcjQUxMFp pic.twitter.com/BOMNxEm79u
Additional to the allegations brought on by DFEH regarding sexual harassment, the lawsuit not only alleges that female employees at Activision Blizzard were discriminated against on the basis of gender, but that actions taken by themselves constitute a breaking of Californian Equal Pay laws.
California holds some of the most progressive Equal Pay and Fair Employment laws in the world, and certainly, in the United States. In a Press Release provided to EarlyGame by DFEH, it is alleged that Activision Blizzard have systematically underpaid female employees, and provided significantly fewer staff benefits and promotions than their male counterparts.
As of writing, it is unknown what will come of DFEH's suit, but considering that DFEH is a Department of the State of California, we can expect proceedings to continue. It is uncertain at this stage what liability Activision Blizzard will incur, but the allegations that have been brought forward seem to be very serious.
Update: September 28 - Activision Blizzard Put 18 Million Aside To Make Amends
On September 28 the news came that Activision Blizzard was setting aside $18 million to compensate victims and make amends with employees. They've promised that:
Any amounts not used for claimants will be divided between charities that advance women in the video game industry or promote awareness around harassment and gender equality issues as well as company diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, as approved by the EEOC.
They shared an open letter on Twitter that detailed these plans:
In agreement with the EEOC, we will create an $18 million fund for employees and are making new commitments to create a more inclusive and respectful workplace.— Activision Blizzard (@ATVI_AB) September 27, 2021
CEO Bobby Kotick: there is "no place" for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment.https://t.co/hsUBe6SlkT
Will this kind of PR help them in the lawsuit? Only time will tell, but we have our doubts.
This is, of course, an ongoing story. We will continue to update this article with new information as it surfaces, and will keep you up-to-date with everything going on at Activision Blizzard.