On Thursday, 22 July, following a two-year investigation, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit (here is the official document in full) to the gaming company Activision Blizzard.
The subject of the action is discrimination against employees on the grounds of sex, unlawful retaliation, admission of discrimination, harassment in the workplace and unfair remuneration. The game media summarized the morale and behavior of male employees – unfortunately including executives – in the English slang term “frat boy culture”, which can be loosely translated as fraternization, but with a very negative meaning, underlining the sexist and predatory practices of a tight male collective.
Examples of specific allegations in a lawsuit are:
- Suicide of an employee on a business trip due to sexual blackmail by a colleague.
- A woman with double work results but a lower salary than a colleague was subsequently promoted.
- Drunken men crawling under tables in the workplace, associated with harassment of women.
- Discrimination against women not only on the basis of gender, but also on race or sexual orientation.
- Men play during working hours while delegating work to female subordinates.
- Public commenting on the appearance of colleagues in the workplace, joking about rape.
- The reluctance of some superiors to communicate with women.
In the case of the most serious allegation of suicide, it is worth noting that there is relatively substantial evidence and testimony – the culprit allegedly shared nude photos of the victim and had sexual aids included with him on a business trip.
Additional behind-the-scenes report on the development of Warcraft III: Reforged
Jason Schreier published the same day as well reportage about the painful history of the development of a failed remaster. The core of the information was the fact that the project was significantly underfunded during development and thus led to an unsolvable situation on the part of the development team, which was still largely dissolved three months after the release of the remaster. Those who stay have been suffering from depression, anxiety and exhaustion for more than a year.
Responses from Activison Blizzard
1. Challenge of the lawsuit, threat of relocation of the company
An Activision Blizzard spokesman sent a lengthy statement to journalist Jason Schreier, calling the lawsuit “distorted and, in many ways, false.” At the same time, the statement contained a not very hidden threat to state organizations that the company would move to another country with its tax payments:
“This is exactly the kind of irresponsible behavior from elusive state bureaucrats that many of the best companies in the state are expelling from California.”
2. Internal investigations and assurances
That night, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack emailed employees calling the lawsuit “very worrying” and promising to meet with many employees to get answers to questions and discuss how to proceed:
3. Internal defense and denial
On the same day, Frances Townsend (former President Bush’s security adviser 2004-2007, who joined Activison in March this year) also sent a very different email to CCO (the position responsible for processes and legal standards in the company), in which she described the events of the lawsuit as ten years old and expressed the view that the current company Activision Blizzard does not suffer from similar problems:
Apology from the former head of the company
On Saturday, the whole incident expressed also former Blizzard boss and co-founder Mike Morhaime, who wrote to employees, among other things: “I hear you, I trust you, and I apologize for disappointing you.” Morhaime left the company in 2018 and subsequently founded a new studio called Dreamhaven.
Reaction of the public and employees
You will probably not be surprised that the company’s reactions did not please the employees. Many former employees, industry and the general gaming community also responded to the case. Many players uninstalled the company’s games from their computers and vowed not to buy anything from them. Some World of Warcraft players strike in protest in-game, by placing characters in place instead of playing:
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As one of the reminders of the sexist behavior of some Bliizard representatives during the peak of their fame on the Internet, a reminder of this video was made, where a fan asks at the conference if the heroines in Blizzard games could be more dressed – the answer is sexist jokes:
This is a problem for many other companies in the industry
Gaming journalist and developer Alanah Pearce was one of many who pointed out that very similar problems affect a large group of technology corporations, employing mostly men. In recent weeks, for example, Kotaku has brought a very similar one reportage on sexist practices at the Ubisoft branch in Singapore.
Open letter from 1000+ employees, strike, requirements
More than a thousand employees subsequently signed an open letter addressed to the company’s management and also announced a strike (planned for today). The letter expresses a clear disagreement with the state of the company and also with Frances Townsed’s statement. Employees formulated 4 requirements:
- Abolish the ban on litigation that employees have in their employment contract.
- Improving the recruitment and promotion process to avoid discrimination against women and minorities.
- Disclosure of salaries at all levels of the company.
- Hiring a third party to independently oversee equality for the company.
Today’s promise of the company’s CEO, Bobby Koticka
Bobby Kottick sent in response to the situation today open letter employees, in which it promises:
- Enhanced support for employees from HR teams.
- Listening session with a third party
- Reassessment of all leading positions and managers in the company.
- Guidelines for achieving a diversified recruitment process.
- Remove problematic content from released games (probably references to the names of the offenders, note. red.)
The company’s official social networks broke the silence
In a similar vein, after a few days of silence, the social networks of the individual games began to express themselves, at least for now World of Warcraft:
Among other things, the company’s shares are expected to fall and Diablo II remake sales are threatened in September.