On Tuesday, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against video game goliath Activision Blizzard for cultivating a ‘frat boy’ culture in its workspace wherein female employees experience constant sexist treatment. This includes sexual harassment, verbal harassment and unequal pay and work opportunities. Since the filing of the suit, many women have come forward to share their stories.
As a disclaimer, this article will cover sensitive topics. Some details may be particularly disturbing to some readers. Please bear this in mind as you read on.
California vs Activision Blizzard
The official lawsuit covers, in detail, many events emblematic of the so-called “frat house” culture at Activision Blizzard, and comes as the result of a two-year investigation into the company’s workplace practices by the DFEH. According to the suit, women make up 20% of Activision’s workforce, and top leadership positions have historically only been held by men. Women who do make it into higher positions in the company allegedly earn significantly less than their male co-workers.
Women in the company are allegedly assigned lower opportunity roles, are promoted more slowly and terminated more quickly than their male counterparts, and many leave the company because of such odds. One employee had assumed a manager position, but when she questioned a male supervisor about being paid fairly for the extra work and being officially promoted to the position, he allegedly said he “could not risk” promoting her as she could fall pregnant and enjoy being a mom too much to work effectively. Apparently, female workers, in general, were mistreated for their pregnancies, being poorly evaluated while on maternity leave and being forced out of lactation rooms so that co-workers could use them for meetings.
The “frat boy” culture mentioned earlier characterises itself in acts of harassment towards female workers. As an example:
“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.”
Furthermore, “…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.”
This culture leads to female employees being subjected to physical harassment too, with the suit describing women having to “fend off” non-consensual sexual comments and groping. In a particularly tragic example, an employee even took her own life during a business trip after facing extreme and repeated harassment from her male supervisor.
Women at Activision Blizzard are also discouraged from coming forward to human resources over harassment and discrimination, as those in HR positions are known to be close to harassers too.
In a statement to many media publications, such as The Verge, Activision Blizzard calls the DFEH “reprehensible” for the suit, saying that, “The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today.”
According to The Verge in light of the lawsuit, several former Blizzard employees have stepped forward to share their experiences online. The Verge did not name or link these employees to protect them from targeted harassment. You can find the full DFEH lawsuit and Activision Blizzard’s statement over on its website, linked above.