Activision Blizzard Lawsuit: 'Call of Duty' Publisher Sued Over Harassment Allegations

Activision Blizzard has been accused of discriminating against female employees and fostering a "frat boy culture" of harassment in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

The Fortune 500 company—which counts Call of Duty publisher Activision, World of Warcraft's Blizzard Entertainment and Candy Crush developer King amongst its subsidiaries—was the subject of a two-year investigation by the DFEH.

During this time, the agency recorded numerous complaints from female employees relating to unequal pay, discriminatory treatment and inappropriate conduct from male colleagues.

The company has denied the allegations.

What Is the Activision Blizzard Lawsuit About?

The 29-page complaint was filed on Tuesday in the Los Angeles Superior Court. Bloomberg first reported on the lawsuit yesterday evening.

The complaint alleges that Activision Blizzard has discriminated against its female employees in terms of pay, promotion opportunities and termination procedures, but also "failed to take effective remedial measures" in response to accusations of workplace harassment and discrimination.

The document claims that the "Defendants' actions were wilful, malicious, fraudulent, and oppressive, and were committed with the wrongful intent to injure female employees in conscious disregard of their rights."

As reported by Bloomberg, the DFEH is seeking an injunction that will force the video-game giant to comply with workplace protections, and seeking unpaid wages, pay adjustments, back pay, and lost wages and benefits for female employees.

Allegations of Inequality at Activision Blizzard

The lawsuit accuses Activision Blizzard of engaging in "discriminatory practices regarding pay, assignment, promotion and other terms and conditions of employment which negatively affect and impact female employees."

The complaint points out that women make up only 20% of Activision Blizzard's workforce and that its top leadership is exclusively male. The document alleges that the few women who do manage to climb higher in the business end up earning less salary, incentive pay and total compensation than their male peers.

The lawsuit also alleges that women are routinely assigned to less lucrative jobs, receive lower starting pay and earn less than male employees for "substantially similar work."

The complaint also points to alleged instances of men being promoted over better qualified female counterparts.

In one example, a female employee had consistently high performance reviews, generated significant revenue for the company and had an exceptional work output.

The complaint states: "Despite her accomplishments, her male counterpart was invited to have monthly or weekly one-on-one meetings with the Vice President. She was not afforded these same opportunities and unsurprisingly was passed over for a promotion in favour of her male counterpart."

The suit also details claims by other female employees (at Blizzard Entertainment specifically) that they 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."

Allegations of Pregnancy Discrimination at Activision Blizzard

The lawsuit also accuses the company of discriminatory practices against pregnant female employees. It alleges that one woman had assumed the responsibilities of a manager, but was denied a corresponding promotion and pay rise because "she might get pregnant and like being a mom too much."

The suit adds: "In general, female employees were further treated negatively due to their pregnancies."

It alleges that supervisors would ignore medical restrictions given to pregnant colleagues, negative evaluations were given to those on maternity leave and women were often criticized for leaving work to pick up their children from daycare, even though their male counterparts were just playing video games.

Allegations of 'Frat Boy' Culture at Activision Blizzard

The DFEH investigation into the company also concluded that it was fostering an inappropriate workplace culture.

The lawsuit states: "Female employees almost universally confirmed that working for [Activision Blizzard] was akin to working in a frat house, which invariably involved male employees drinking and subjecting female employees to sexual harassment with no repercussion."

It goes on to describe how women were allegedly subjected to "cube crawls." This is when a male co-worker drinks excessive amounts of alcohol before coming into the office and then "crawls" their way through the cubicles while making inappropriate comments towards female colleagues.

The complaint alleges: "Male employees proudly come into work hungover [...] engage in banter about their sexual encounters, talk openly about female bodies, and joke about rape." Supervisors are allegedly aware of this behaviour and encourage it.

The legal document claims that this "pervasive frat boy culture" manifests in constant sexual harassment at the company, with women allegedly having to fend off lewd comments, unwanted advances and groping on a regular basis.

The lawsuit also alleges that the suicide of a female employee during a business trip with a male supervisor was "a tragic example of the harassment that [Activision Blizzard] allowed to fester in their offices."

The suit claims that this woman had been subjected to other instances of sexual harassment at work.

The company said the woman's death had "no bearing whatsoever" on the lawsuit.

Allegations About the HR Response at Activision Blizzard

The lawsuit alleges that several complaints were made to the company's HR department, as well as to Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack, but these were never taken seriously. The complaints, it alleges, "were treated in a perfunctory and dismissive manner and not kept confidential."

Women who did speak up faced retaliation, according to the suit, "including but not limited to being deprived of work on projects, unwillingly transferred to different units, and selected for layoffs."

What Activision Blizzard Has Said

Newsweek has contacted Activision Blizzard for comment, but has yet to receive a response.

In an earlier statement on the suit, 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."

The lawsuit does not reflect "the Blizzard workplace of today," added the statement, which can be read in full here.

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.

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Activision logo seen at a "Call of Duty" fan event in 2016. Activision Blizzard is being sued in California. Rich Polk/Getty Images