activision blizzard sued over discrimination against female employees

Just a few hours ago, Bloomberg Law shared a disheartening report: The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, citing several startling examples of discrimination against female employees, including unequal pay, promotion opportunities, and recurring sexual harassment. One of these allegations involved a tragic suicide of an employee.

Please be warned that we will be discussing some highly sensitive topics below, including suicide and explicit descriptions of sexual harassment.

The full court report includes the full extent of the allegations and example figures, and makes specific mentions of the World of Warcraft team, as well as Alex Afrasiabi, former Senior Creative Director for WoW who quietly left the company in June 2020.

According to DFEH, Alex Afrasiabi was “permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions.” Here is one of many examples from the full report: during one of the company events, he “would hit on female employees, telling him he wanted to marry them, attempting to kiss them, and putting his arms around them,” in plain view of other male employees (including supervisors) who had to physically intervene on his behavior.

Afrasiabi’s harassment of female workers was so frequent, it has earned his suite a nickname: “Cosby Suite,” after alleged rapist Bill Cosby.

According to the report, other top members of Blizzard who were informed about Afrasiabi’s conduct did little to curtail it. Allegedly, J. Allen Brack, the President of Blizzard, “gave Afrasabi a slap on the wrist” when discussing his drinking and him being “too friendly” towards female employees at company events. Despite multiple conversation of this kind, Afrasiabi did not cease making unwanted advances, including “grabbing a female emplyee’s hand and inviting her to his hotel room and groping another women.”

activision blizzard afrasiabi sexual harassment lawsuit

Unfortunately, Afrasiabi was far from being the only employee at Blizzard to behave in this manner. The workplace culture seemed to originate at the top, trickling down to affect female employees across all of the positions at the company:

“Unlike its customer-base of increasingly diverse players, Defendants’ workforce is only about 20 percent women. Its top leadership is also exclusively male and white. 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, as evidenced in Defendants’ own records. Similar disparities exist throughout the company.”

– From the court report

The lawsuit discussed several examples of women being denied promotions over their male coworkers, even if they had more to offer in regards to credentials and experience.

Hidden behind the salary numbers are distressful struggles of female employees, subjected to a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ workplace culture” that involves “cube crawls” with male employees consuming “copious amounts of alcohol as they ‘crawl’ their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behavior towards female employees.”

During a regular work day it wouldn’t be uncommon to see male employees coming into work being proudly hungover, playing video games and delegating responsibilities to female employees. Sex banter, open discussion about female bodies, and rape jokes are a common addition to this routine.

activision blizzard sued over discrimination sexual harassment of female employees

A harrowing consequence of this repeated harassment was a suicide of a female worker. According to the full report, the tragic event happened during a business trip, “with a male supervisor who had brought butt plugs and lubricant with him on the trip.”

Bloomberg added that the female employee “had been subjected to intense sexual harassment prior to her death, including having nude photos passed around at a company holiday party,” according to the complaint.

activision blizzard sued over discrimination of female employees blizzard response

IGN has shared a statement sent by an Activision Blizzard spokesperson in response to the allegations. Here is an excerpt from that reply:

“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 DFEH 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. …

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 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. …

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.”

Since the publication of the report, a few tweets have been shared by former female Blizzard employees, privately verified by r/wow mods. We will end this post by sharing some of their voices:

The Game Master, Senior Game Master, and Producer who worked 13 years and 7 months at the company:

The Senior Systems Engineer with 4 years and 1 month of experience at the company:

Game Master and Game Designer who spent 7 years and 2 months at the company:

About the Author

Mila Grish

Dedicated contributor at Lexicon Gaming and a part-time collector of books she will never have time to actually read. Jumps on the newest releases just as quickly as on the uncovered dusty collections from the basement. For her, shiny graphics can never be an excuse to not have a polished player experience or an immersive story.

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