[Content Warning: Sexual Harassment, Assault, Suicide]
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for discrimination and sexual harassment against its employees, detailing years of inappropriate behavior that has been described as “frat boy” culture. The official court records say that male employees frequently engaged in “cube crawls,” involving drinking “copious amounts of alcohol” and crawling through various cubicles in the office while “engaging in inappropriate behavior toward female employees,” and joked openly about rape, among a long list of other behavior that was seemingly encouraged or at least allowed to continue without repercussion by management that continue to work at the game company.
The court documents submitted by the DFEH paint a grim picture of the company’s toxic culture in which management “assigned women to lower paid and lower opportunity levels and roles, delayed their career advancement, denied them promotional opportunities afforded to their male counterparts, and refused to promote women because they might get pregnant even when women performed higher level work for extended periods of time.” It also details multiple instances of harassment.
One of the perpetrators named specifically in the documents was Alex Afrasiabi, former Senior Creative Director of World of Warcraft who the documents say hit on and attempted to kiss female employees, including supervisors, at the company’s BlizzCon event. Afrasiabi was reportedly so well known in his harassment that his suite was nicknamed the “Crosby Suite” after alleged rapist “Bill Crosby” (likely a misspelling of Bill Cosby). While fellow employees frequently had to intervene, President of Blizzard J. Allen Brack had reportedly given Afrasiabi only a verbal counselling multiple times and left him entirely unpunished. Afrasiabi quietly left Blizzard in June last year.
The list goes on. A former Chief Technology Officer groping inebriated female employees. A male supervisor openly encouraging a male employee to “buy a prostitute” to cure a bad mood. An African American female employee was micromanaged, criticized for her body language, and forced to write a one-page summary of her plans to take time off of work, while her male counterparts hired after her were given promotions and seen slouching in meetings without repercussions. A female employee who took her own life during a company trip had been in a sexual relationship with her male supervisor, and was suffering from sexual harassment at the workplace as male co-workers were allegedly passing around pictures of the employee’s genitals.
According to Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, a spokesperson at Activision Blizzard has denied the lawsuit allegations as false but has not provided any evidence to the contrary. While DFEH took over two years of extensive investigation and interviewed dozens of former and current employees, the Activision Blizzard spokesperson describes DFEH as “unaccountable state bureaucrats” and commented on how the department is “driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”
Activision Blizzard, the studio behind World of Warcraft, Diablo, and the Call of Duty series, among many other big-name titles, recently laid off 50 employees even though it posted a record year of profits. The company also drew criticism for CEO Bobby Kotick’s multi-million dollar bonus amid the layoffs, in which the executive racked up a $200 million payout. Back in 2019, former CFO Spencer Neumann was also let go from the company for reasons “unrelated to the company’s financial reporting.”
The DEFH lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, filed July 20th, 2021, calls for a trial by jury.