Activision Blizzard facing lawsuit over allegations of "frat boy" working culture

Activision Blizzard facing lawsuit over allegations of "frat boy" working culture

Content warning: Contains references to sexual harassment, abuse and suicide

US publishing giant Activision Blizzard is being sued by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) over accusations of its working culture.

The suit was filed with the Superior Court of California County of Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 20th, with employees saying that women are paid less and given fewer opportunities than their male counterparts. Women at the company have also said that Activision Blizzard has "fostered a pervasive 'frat boy' workplace culture."

This includes male employees acting in inappropriate ways towards their female counterparts, including allegations of sexual harassment. The DFEH's case says that high ranking execs take part in this behaviour "without repercussions," while the suit claims that a female employee took her own life while on a business trip with a male manager who had brought, erm, butt plugs and lube with him. Pardon?

Plaintiffs taking part in the suit allege that they have complained to HR and execs but nothing has happened. As is the case with many stories of this kind of working environment, "HR [is] not held in high regard."

DFEH wants relief for those affected by this toxic environment.

Below is a statement responding to this story from Activision Blizzard, provided to GamesBeat:

"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."

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.