Activision Blizzard Sued by California Agency for Discrimination, Sexual Harassment

On Tuesday, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a complaint against video game publisher Activision Blizzard, Inc. in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. The DFEH alleged widespread sexual discrimination, harrassment, pay discrimination, and a “frat boy culture” at Activision Blizzard which created a hostile work environment for its female employees.

Activision Blizzard is one of the largest video game development and publishing companies in the world, developing well-known franchises like World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. Despite an increasingly diverse customer base, the complaint said, its workforce “is only about 20 percent women.” Across the company, women are “assigned to lower pay and lower opportunity levels” and have to face a thriving “frat boy culture” on a daily basis where they are subject to “constant” sexual harassment, the complaint continued. 

According to the complaint, male employees would become intoxicated and engage in “cube crawls” where they would crawl through cubicles and “often engage in inappropriate behavior” with female employees. Moreover, male employees would come into work “hungover,” play video games for “long periods of time during work,” give their work to female employees while “engag[ing] in banter about their sexual encounters, talk[ing] openly about female bodies, and jok[ing] about rape.” 

The DFEH is a state agency “tasked with investigating and prosecuting civil rights actions,” charged with enforcing the California Fair Enforcement and Housing Act (FEHA) and Labor Code section 1197.5, which “prohibits employers from paying employees of one sex less for substantially similar work.” 

The agency’s director, Kevin Kish, said he filed several amended complaints against Activision Blizzard between October and December 2018, and after two years of investigation issued a cause finding on June 24 of this year. The DFEH “found evidence that Defendants discriminated against female employees in terms and conditions of employment, including compensation, assignment, promotion, termination, constructive discharge and retaliation,” as well as that “female employees were subject to sexual harassment” and were paid less than men for similar work. The DFEH had mediation sessions in early July with the Defendants in order to resolve the matter without litigation, but no resolution was reached.  

The plaintiffs alleged that, due to the behavior and the environment fostered by the defendants, female employees “suffered lost earnings, lost benefits, lost future employment opportunities, and other financial loss as well as non-economic damages, including […] emotional pain, humiliation, embarrassment, belittlement, sadness, and mental anguish.” These discriminatory practices started as soon as these employees were hired, and supposedly still persists. Women of color were “particularly vulnerable” and suffered even more scrutiny and harassment, and to this day the “gender pay gap is significant,” the agency alleged

The DFEH is seeking relief on five counts of employment discrimination because of sex for compensation, promotion, termination, constructive discharge, harassment; retaliation; two violations of failure to prevent discrimination and harassment, on behalf of the DFEH and the female employees; and forwaiver of rights, forums or procedures and release of claims.

The plaintiffs are represented by Janette L. Wipper, Sue J. Noh and Rumdoul Vuong of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.