Technology

Inside the sexual harassment lawsuit at Activision Blizzard

When California’s truthful employment company sued Activision Blizzard, one in every of the largest online game studios in the world, on July twentieth, it wasn’t shocking to listen to the allegations of systemic gender discrimination and sexual harassment at the company. It wasn’t a shock to examine male executives groping their feminine colleagues, or loudly joking about rape in the office, or utterly ignoring girls for promotions. What was shocking was that California wished to research Activision Blizzard at all, contemplating these points have seemingly been current since its founding in 1979.

Activision Blizzard is a multibillion-dollar writer with 9,500 workers and a roster of legendary franchises, together with Call of Duty, Overwatch, Diablo and World of Warcraft. On July twentieth, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit in opposition to Activision Blizzard, alleging executives had fostered an atmosphere of misogyny and frat-boy rule for years, violating equal pay legal guidelines and labor codes alongside the method. This is about greater than soiled jokes in the break room — the lawsuit highlights clear disparities in hiring, compensation {and professional} development between women and men at Activision Blizzard, and it paints an image of pervasive sexism and outright abuse in the workplace.


Here’s a rundown of a few of the allegations:

  • Just 20 p.c of all Activision Blizzard workers are girls.

  • Top management roles are crammed solely by white males.

  • Across the company, girls are paid much less, promoted slower and fired sooner than males.

  • HR and executives fail to take complaints of harassment critically.

  • Women of colour particularly are micromanaged and ignored for promotions.

  • A pervasive frat-boy tradition encourages habits like “cube crawls,” the place male workers grope and sexually harass feminine co-workers at their desks.

It’s been a couple of weeks since the lawsuit was filed, and workers, executives and gamers have all had an opportunity to reply. Meanwhile, extra experiences of longstanding harassment and sexism at Activision Blizzard have continued to roll out, together with images and tales of the “Cosby Suite,” which was particularly named in the submitting. According to the lawsuit, this was a lodge room the place male workers would collect to harass girls at company occasions, named after the rapist Bill Cosby. 

Days after the submitting, Kotaku published photos of the supposed Cosby Suite, displaying male Activision Blizzard builders posing on a mattress with a framed picture of Bill Cosby at BlizzCon 2013. Screenshots of conversations amongst the builders mentioned gathering “hot chixx for the Coz” and different insulting, immature issues (particularly while you keep in mind these are middle-aged males, not middle-schoolers).

One of the solely executives really named in the go well with was Blizzard head J. Allen Brack, and it alleges he routinely ignored systemic harassment and didn’t punish abusers. Brack known as the allegations “extremely troubling,” however this line was thrown again in his face on Twitter when unbiased developer Nels Anderson in contrast it to a video out of BlizzCon 2010, that includes Brack on the far left. 

In the video, a younger girl asks the panel of World of Warcraft builders, all six of whom are white males, whether or not they’ll ever create a feminine character that would not appear like she simply stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog. The panelists snort and one responds, “Which catalog would you like them to step out of?” They proceed to primarily dismiss her question. At the finish of the alternate, Brack piles on and makes a joke about one in every of the new characters coming from an attractive cow catalog.

On August third, simply two weeks after California filed its lawsuit, Brack stepped down from his function as the president of Blizzard. In his place might be GM Mike Ybarra and govt improvement VP Jen Oneal. Oneal might be the first girl in a president function since Activision’s founding in 1979; the lawsuit notes that there has by no means been a non-white president or CEO of Activision Blizzard.

Activision Blizzard’s preliminary response to the lawsuit was tragic, with one chief calling the allegations meritless and distorted. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who commonly will get into fights with shareholders over the ridiculous fortune he’s amassed, printed his own response to the lawsuit, the place he primarily promised to hear higher. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t alleviate many workers’ considerations. A petition in help of the lawsuit ended up gathering greater than 2,000 worker signatures, and employees organized a walk-out simply eight days after the submitting, calling for systemic change at the studio.

Shareholders weren’t bolstered by Kotick’s response, both. Investors filed an extra class-action lawsuit in opposition to Activision Blizzard on August third, alleging the company failed to boost potential regulatory points stemming from its discriminatory tradition. Blizzard’s head of HR, Jesse Meschuk, additionally left the company in the weeks following the preliminary lawsuit.

Meanwhile, other main game developers have rallied behind the go well with, and former Activision Blizzard leaders have shared their support for workers, apologizing for his or her elements in sustaining a poisonous company tradition.

None of that is new. As evidenced by the images, movies, stats and personal tales flowing out of Activision Blizzard, the company has operated on a bro-first foundation for many years, and truthfully, it’s been sustained by an business that largely capabilities the identical method.

In 2019, a wave of accusations in opposition to distinguished male builders crashed over the business, and AAA studios like Ubisoft and Riot Games made headlines for fostering poisonous workplace environments. California is at the moment suing Riot over allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in hiring and pay practices.

But even that’s not new. Women, non-binary folks and marginalized people in the online game business have been talking up about systemic harassment and discrimination for literal a long time. Sexism is obvious in the hiring and pay habits of many main studios, and it’s additionally clear in the video games themselves, which function an overabundance of straight, white, male protagonists.

What is shocking, this time round, is that the lawsuit in opposition to Activision Blizzard sort of got here out of nowhere. It took a blockbuster media report back to make California sue Riot in 2020, however the lawsuit in opposition to Activision Blizzard appeared by itself, after years of quiet investigation by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. If sexism is systemic in the online game business, it looks like the system is lastly combating again.

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