Every Activision Blizzard Allegation—Sexual Banter, Rape Jokes, Pay Discrimination

Game developer Activision Blizzard has been accused of discriminating against female employees in pay and conditions and allowing a "frat boy" culture of sexual harassment in the workplace.

According to a major lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Activision Blizzard routinely paid women less than men, disciplined women in ways male employees never were, despite them displaying worse behavior, and was less likely to promote women at all levels.

The suit also alleges that the offices of the company—which is responsible for popular franchises such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft—were rife with sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior.

Allegations of Harassment in the Workplace

Female staff were allegedly subjected to "cube crawls" in which male employees drank "copious amounts" of alcohol as they crawled their way through cubicles in the office and engaged in lewd behavior towards the female employees.

"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," the suit states.

"Unsurprisingly, Defendants' 'frat boy' culture is a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women."

The suit states that female workers at Activision Blizzard were subjected to constant sexual harassment, including having to "continually fend off unwanted sexual comments" and advances by their male co-workers and supervisors during the "cube crawls" and other company events.

The suit notes one incident when a female employee took her own life during a business trip with an unnamed male supervisor, who had brought sex toys and lubricant with him on the trip.

It is alleged that this female employee had been previously subjected to other incidents of sexual harassment at work. The suit claims that at a holiday party before her death, male co-workers passed around a picture of her vagina.

Activision Blizzard has denied the allegations made in the lawsuit, saying it contains "distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions" of the company's past.

The company added that it was "sickened" by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing's decision to mention the employee who died, saying her suicide had "no bearing whatsoever" on the case.

"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," the company added.

The California lawsuit also alleges that female employees working for the World of Warcraft team complained male employees and supervisors would hit on them and make derogatory comments about rape at work.

In one alleged incident, a male supervisor openly encouraged a male subordinate to "buy" a prostitute to cure his bad mood.

One person named in the suit is Alex Afrasiabi, the former senior creative director of World of Warcraft at Blizzard Entertainment. He is accusing of engaging in "blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions," including attempting to kiss and grope female employees and calling them derogatory names at company events.

"Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite was nicknamed the 'Crosby [sic] Suite'" after Bill Cosby, according to the lawsuit.

Cosby, who has always denied the allegations against him, was freed from prison in June after his conviction for sexual assault was vacated.

Allegations of Pay Discrimination

Activision Blizzard is also accused of discriminating against female employees on pay, promotions, opportunities and delegation of tasks.

The lawsuit states that the workforce is only about 20 percent female and the CEO and president roles "are now—and have always been—held by white men."

"Very few women ever reach top roles at the company. The women who do reach higher roles earn less salary, incentive pay and total compensation than their male peers," the suit states.

The company is alleged to pay female employees a significantly lower starting salary than their male counterparts. Women were "overwhelmingly" assigned into lower grades/levels without stock and incentive opportunities, it is alleged, and often had to work harder and longer to earn the same opportunities for promotion as men.

In some cases, women were overlooked for promotion in favor of men who lacked the same experience or qualifications, but were friends with the male head of the unit.

Women were also allegedly discriminated against because of pregnancies or children. The suit claims one female employee had assumed some of the responsibilities of a manager, but when she asked to be paid fairly and actually promoted into such a position, her manager told her that they could not risk promoting her as "she might get pregnant and like being a mom too much."

Other female employees reported that they were criticized for leaving to pick up their children from daycare while their male counterparts were playing video games at the same time. Female staff were also allegedly kicked out of lactation rooms so employees could use the space for meetings.

Allegations About the Treatment of Women of Color

The lawsuit claims women of color were "particularly vulnerable targets" of Activision Blizzard's discriminatory practices.

One Black woman said it took her two years to be made a permanent employee while men hired after her were made permanent a lot sooner.

She also claims she was micromanaged to such an extent that while her male co-workers were allowed to play video games on shift, her supervisor would call and check on her if she took a break to go for a walk.

Another African American employee claimed that when she requested time off work, she was made to write a one-page summary of how she would spend that time, which no one else was required to do.

"The male supervisor also criticized her body language despite male counterparts slouching in meetings and she was scolded for asking for assistance while others could get help on similar tasks without the same criticism," the suit states.

Allegations About Failure to Act on Complaints

The lawsuit also alleges that Activision Blizzard executives and its human resources department failed to act on complaints made to them about discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

The company "failed to take effective remedial measures in response to these complaints. Employees were further discouraged from complaining as human resource personnel were known to be close to alleged harassers," the suit states.

The complaints were allegedly "treated in a perfunctory and dismissive manner and not kept confidential."

Female employees who spoke out were, the suit alleges, "subjected to retaliation, including but not limited to being deprived of work on projects, unwillingly transferred to different units, and selected for layoffs."

Activision Blizzard's Full Statement

In a full statement addressing the claims in the lawsuit, given to The Verge and other news sites, Activision Blizzard said: "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 [Department of Fair Employment and Housing] 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."

Newsweek has contacted Activision Blizzard for further comment.

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. The line is available 24 hours every day.

Activision lawsuit
Activision office in the Silicon Beach area of Los Angeles, seen on December 10, 2018. A lawsuit has been filed against Activision Blizzard in California. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images