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Employees Walk Out After California Sues Activision Blizzard for Sexual Harassment

In July, employees at Activision Blizzard took a major stand against unfair treatment when they staged a walkout to protest the company’s response to the filing of a lawsuit alleging pervasive harassment of women.

Activision Blizzard, a major video game production company responsible for the game World of Warcraft, has been sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (CDFEH). The lawsuit is based on allegations of rampant, unaddressed sexual harassment and inequitable working conditions. However, the company claimed the lawsuit is founded on “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past,” and did not immediately take action to address any of the allegations.

That’s why the staff at the Irvine, CA, location choose to stage a walkout. The employees had four demands of the company:

  • A change to their hiring and promotion policies to address the gender imbalance
  • A third-party audit of the company’s management and HR department
  • An end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts
  • The publication of all compensation and promotion information for all staff

The company did not address any of these demands before or immediately after the walkout. However, in the weeks since, public pressure and employee backlash have led Blizzard to make multiple changes, including:

  • The departure of J. Allen Brack and Jesse Meschuk, respectively the president of Blizzard and the top Blizzard HR executive, likely in response to public backlash regarding their initial response to the lawsuit
  • The firing of senior employees Diablo 4 director Luis Barriga, the game’s lead designer Jesse McCree and World of Warcraft designer Jonathan LeCraft, potentially due to social media allegations that they took part in the harassment
  • The hiring of a law firm to evaluate the company’s policies and procedures

Despite these actions, Activision Blizzard employees are still fighting for additional changes from the company. Why? Because the lawsuit against the corporation is one of the largest in history, detailing unforgivable harassment and discrimination against women. Here’s what the CDFEH lawsuit covers, how Activision Blizzard’s culture became so toxic, and how the suit may affect future sexual harassment and discrimination cases.

The Case Against Activision Blizzard

The CDFEH has been investigated Activision Blizzard for multiple years. During its investigation, the agency found:

  • The Blizzard workforce is only 20% female
  • The executive leadership team is exclusively white and male, and the CEO and President roles have never been held by anyone other than white men
  • Women who reach managerial and other top roles at the company receive less compensation in all categories than male counterparts performing similar work
  • Starting salaries for women at the company are consistently lower
  • Women are terminated more frequently and less likely to be promoted than male counterparts

From the CDFEH filing, “women are subjected to “cube crawls” in which male employees drink copious amounts of alcohol as they “crawl” their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees.” On top of this, HR complaints made by harassed women were not kept confidential. These women were then subject to retaliation, including termination. All these allegations and more are corroborated by Blizzard employees on social media, with specific stories and even email chains to back up their claims.

Because of these allegations, the CDFEH is suing Activision Blizzard on behalf of the female employees and seeking:

  • Unpaid wages and other Equal Pay Act remedies and penalties
  • Equitable relief, such as backpay for wage differentials, job reinstatement, lost wages due to termination, and pay adjustments
  • Injunctive relief

How Harassment and Discrimination Fly Under the Radar

But how did Blizzard get to this point? No one party is entirely to blame for the company’s culture of harassment and abuse. Neither is Blizzard unique in its toxic environment. Instead, many factors contributed, each of which could be found at your employer, too.

First, the video game production industry is highly competitive for all workers, not just women. In any industry where there are many more potential employees than open roles, harassed staff can be afraid to complain for fear that they’ll lose their job and not find a new one.

Second, the HR department allegedly acted with intense favoritism. It seems that many complaints that should have been addressed by HR were instead ignored, particularly when the subject of the complaint was friendly with the HR staff.

Third, the people in positions of power at Activision Blizzard didn’t take harassment accusations seriously. There was no one within the company to whom a harassed employee could elevate their complaints.

Female employees knew that complaining to HR was at best useless and, at worst, a way to get fired. Meanwhile, some male employees realized that they wouldn’t face consequences for their actions and started behaving in truly inexcusable ways. The result was a company where it was normal for women to be harassed, underpaid, and abused. The same thing can take place anywhere with an unresponsive HR department and poor leadership.

Potential Impacts of the Activision Blizzard Lawsuit

It’s rare for the CDFEH to sue a company as large as Activision Blizzard, so this lawsuit will inevitably impact all businesses that operate in California. First and foremost, it sets a precedent for major state-led lawsuits on behalf of abused workers. That offers an extra resource for employees who work at large corporations and need help.

Second, the Activision Blizzard walkout is an excellent example for the employees themselves. It shows that when workers collaborate, they can force their employer to take action. This is already taking place, with Ubisoft employees using the walkout to push Ubisoft to continue following through with promises made during a similar but smaller sexual harassment scandal last year.

Don’t Wait – Take Action Today

The CDFEH case took two years of investigation before the lawsuit was even filed. If you’re currently being sexually harassed at work, you don’t have that time to wait. You deserve better working conditions and compensation today. Get started by requesting your consultation with an experienced sexual harassment attorney today. You can put together your own case and fight for your rights without waiting for the state to step in.