Activision Blizzard Sued Over Alleged 'Frat Boy' Culture, Harassment

Activision Blizzard is currently being sued by the Calif. Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) over allegations of a "frat boy workplace."
Activision Blizzard is currently being sued by the Calif. Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) over allegations of a "frat boy workplace." / Activision Blizzard

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Activision Blizzard Tuesday over allegations of a "pervasive frat boy workplace culture," the result of a two-year investigation.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the Superior Court of Calif. as well as Los Angeles County court.

It alleges the company is at fault for several workplace fairness violations including unequal pay, unequal opportunities, and harassment against female employees. The alleged behavior, according to the suit, has caused many women to leave the company altogether and contributed to the suicide of one female employee.

Despite its outward commitment to diversity, Blizzard's employee records reflect a workplace where female employees are consistently kept at the lower rungs of the corporate ladder and left underpaid even when performing above and beyond their duties, according to the lawsuit. Only 20% of the workforce is female and its leadership has remained in the hands of white male employees since its founding in the 1970s.

An example of this can be found on page 11 of the suit in which the DFEH alleges a female employee who was not only assigned to a lower role but was also denied equal pay and turned down for promotion despite that she "had been carrying out duties exceeding her job description." The promotion went to a male employee hired several months after her within the year of hire.

A second example can be found on the next page where another female employee was also allegedly denied equal pay and opportunity—and subsequently passed over for promotion -- despite not only receiving high performance reviews but also leading more advertising campaigns and earning more revenue than her male counterpart.

"Male employees proudly come into work hungover, play video games for long periods of time during work while delegating their responsibilities to female employees," the suit read, "A newly promoted male supervisor delegated his duties to his now female subordinates in favor of playing Call of Duty."

One Black female employee was forced by her manager to write up a one-page essay on how she would spend her time off upon requesting said time according to page 13 of the lawsuit. That same manager also criticized her body language, posture, and requests for help despite her male counterparts performing the same behavior with either positive or no consequences.

On page 13, one employee gave an anecdote of a conversation between herself and a superior where—like the others mentioned above—after assuming duties above her job description, when asked if she could be fairly compensated for the extra work, she was told the company, "could not risk promoting her as she might get pregnant and like being a mom too much."

This led several female employees to leave the company and seek better opportunities elsewhere.

California's DFEH accused Activision Blizzard of condoning a culture in which male employees are not only allowed but rewarded for their "frat boy" behavior. One such example are the "cube crawls" in which male employees "drink copious amounts of alcohol as they 'crawl' their way through various cubicles in the office."

"Female employees are subjected to constant sexual harassments, including having to continually fend off unwanted sexual comments and advances by their male co-workers and supervisors and being groped at 'cube crawls' and other company events," the suit reads.

One particular example on page 15 names Alex Afrasiabi, Senior Creative Director of World of Warcraft, as one of the worst and most well-known offenders. According to the suit, he was known to sexually harass female employees to the point that other male employees were forced to intervene.

Blizzard's response to this was "a slap on the wrist," according to the lawsuit, via verbal counseling, which did nothing to curb the behavior as Afrasiabi "continued to make unwanted advances toward female employees."

Another notes the company's former Chief of Technology Officer "was known for making hiring decisions based on female applicants' looks." One employee even complained to J. Allen Brack, President of Blizzard Entertainment, that employees were leaving due to sexism.

This allegedly culminated in the suicide of a female employee during a business trip after having been possibly subjected to "intense sexual harassment"—including but not limited to having photos of her genitalia passed around at a holiday party.

After the initial report, Bloomberg's Jason Schreier was sent a "lengthy statement" from Blizzard calling the allegations "distorted, and in many cases false" and accusing the department of having "rushed to file an inaccurate complaint."

"This is the type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable state bureaucrats that are driving many of the State's businesses out of California," a company spokesman wrote.

Despite this, the replies to Schreier's tweet containing the statement attracted former Blizzard employees to tell their stories in droves. One such employee described a situation in which her boss, "gaslit me so badly my hair started falling out." Upon going to HR with evidence the supervisor's claims about her performance were untrue, the department sided with the supervisor.

"I loved Blizzard. I truly did. But they employ predators in every sense and we’ve all internally been saying that for years," she wrote.

The Calif. DFEH is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as unpaid wages for affected employees and, of course, for Activision Blizzard to comply with government standards.