California Lawsuit Alleges Toxic Workplace at Activision Blizzard

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) recently sued one of the world’s largest video game publishers for sexual harassment, discrimination and unequal pay. The lawsuit has sent shockwaves throughout the gaming industry, opening discussions about toxic workplaces in many other game studios.

The lawsuit, filed following a two-year DFEH investigation, accused Activision Blizzard of allowing a “frat bro” culture to thrive in the office. Female employees were constantly subjected to sexual harassment, having to fight off unwelcome comments about their appearance and unwanted sexual advances by male colleagues.

The lawsuit detailed many disturbing instances of sexual harassment, including office “cube crawls” in which male employees would get drunk and go from cubicle to cubicle, engaging in inappropriate behavior toward women. One female employee killed herself during a company outing after experiencing extreme sexual harassment.

According to court documents, Activision Blizzard’s culture of gender discrimination was allegedly present in every aspect of employment for female employees, including pay decisions, promotions and assignments. For example, the DFEH investigation found that women were more likely to be fired and consistently paid less for performing the same tasks as male coworkers.

Activision Blizzard, known for Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and other popular titles, has 9,500 employees. However, only 20 percent of workers are female, the lawsuit stated.

A standard course of action for workplace misconduct would be to report it to an employer’s human resources department. However, Activision Blizzard’s human resources staff failed to keep complaints confidential. They also did not take reasonable action to prevent harassment despite knowing of it. Female employees who reported unlawful behavior experienced retaliation, such as being laid off or removed from work projects.

The company’s leadership was accused of tolerating, ignoring or even participating in the harassment. Activision Blizzard President J. Allen Brack, who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, stepped down after the complaint was filed. 

It remains to be seen whether the DFEH lawsuit will set a precedent and have a significant, long-term impact on workplace culture in the gaming industry. The department previously sued Riot Games for sexual harassment, while Ubisoft came under fire in 2020 for a toxic work environment.

If you have suffered sexual harassment, discrimination or other unlawful treatment in the workplace, contact Erlich Law Firm right away. An experienced Oakland employment lawyer can help you understand your rights.

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