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Activision Blizzard workplace harassment lawsuit: Everything you need to know – CNET

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Activision Blizzard was rocked with an explosive lawsuit filing last week when the state of California formally accused it of workplace discrimination against its female workforce. The suit, filed by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, argued the company had a “frat boy” workplace culture and alleged several alarming incidents of discrimination and harassment.

The suit didn’t take long to make an impact. Many employees have spoken out in support of the claims, over 2,000 have signed an open letter calling for action from the company and a walkout protest is planned for Wednesday. After initially rejecting many of the DFEH’s allegations, Activision Blizzard has said it’ll launch a full probe — and its games will be changed to reflect values of diversity and inclusion.

Activision Blizzard is one of the biggest gaming companies in the world. It owns Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Diablo, Crash Bandicoot and many more hugely popular franchises and last year recorded $2.2 billion in profit. Here’s everything you need to know about this colossal lawsuit.

What is Activision Blizzard accused of?

The DFEH’s suit accuses Activision Blizzard of workplace discrimination. It alleges women are compensated unfairly — paid less for the same job, scrutinized more heavily than their male peers — and subject to considerable harassment. The agency called Activision Blizzard a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination,” in which women are subject to regular sexual advances by (often high-ranking) men who largely go unpunished.  

Illustrative of the claims DFEH is making against Activision is an office ritual referred to as “cube crawls,” in which men allegedly drink “copious” amounts of alcohol, crawl through the office cubicles and engage in “inappropriate behavior” including groping. The lawsuit describes incidents including allegations that a female employee died by suicide during a business trip as a result of a toxic relationship with a supervisor.  

“Women and girls now make up almost half of gamers in America, but the gaming industry continues to cater to men,” the suit reads. “Activision-Blizzard’s double-digit percentage growth, 10-figure annual revenues and recent diversity marketing campaigns have unfortunately changed little.” 

And then employees reacted?

After DFEH filed its suit, Activision Blizzard responded with a lengthy statement that said the Department had filed a rushed, inaccurate report with “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of [Activision Blizzard’s] past.” In an email sent to staff, published by Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, vice president of corporate affairs Frances Townsend said the site presented “a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories — some from more than a month ago.” 

These statements evidently didn’t satisfy employees, neither current nor former. Over 2,000 of them signed an open letter to Activision Blizzard leadership in which they criticized the company’s response. (Activision Blizzard currently has around 10,000 employees.) 

“To put it clearly and unequivocally, our values as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership,” the open letter reads, according to Bloomberg. “To claim this is a ‘truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit’ while seeing so many current and former employees speak out about their own experiences regarding harassment and abuse is simply unacceptable.”

The letter signed by employees made three demands. First, that the company issue statements that acknowledge the severity of the allegations. Second, that Townsend resign from her role as executive sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network. Third, that Activision Blizzard’s executive leadership collaborate with employees to ensure a safe workspace to “speak out and come forward.” 

Beyond the open letter, an employee strike is planned for Wednesday morning at the company’s Irvine, California offices. The Washington Post reports that at least 50 employees plan on striking.

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How did Activision Blizzard respond?   

After Activision Blizzard’s first statement, along with the one made by Townsend, was so thoroughly rejected by employees, the company appears to be taking the suit more seriously. On Tuesday the company’s CEO, Bobby Kotick, issued a letter addressing the suit, and the concerns of employees.

“Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf,” it reads. “We are taking swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment. There is no place anywhere at our Company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind.”

Kotick announced that a law firm, WilmerHale, will be hired to evaluate the company’s “policies and procedures.” 

Beyond the probe, Kotick outlined several changes that would be made effective immediately. The company would be investigating “each and every claim” of discrimination and harassment being made, and will host listening sessions to collaborate with employees on how to improve the workplace culture. Activision Blizzard will also be “evaluating managers and leaders” across the company and making personnel changes as appropriate. Finally, changes will be made to in-game content.

“We have heard the input from employee and player communities that some of our in-game content is inappropriate. We are removing that content,” Kotick wrote.