Sexual harassment claims, lawsuits, and several high profile departures – what’s going on with Activision Blizzard?

Activision Blizzard are entangled in multiple lawsuits and face allegations of "constant sexual harassment" in the workplace

As allegations, investigations and lawsuits have only increased for Activision Blizzard since July, here’s a catch up of everything going on within the company in recent months.

Legal troubles for Activision Blizzard started when the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing submitted a lawsuit against the company on July 20, 2021.

At the heart of the lawsuit are allegations that Activision Blizzard is rife with a “frat boy workplace culture” that act as “a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women”. The lawsuit alleges that female employees face “constant sexual harassment” in the company, with women being “subject to numerous sexual comments and advanced, groping and unwanted physical touching, and other forms of harassment”.

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The suit also alleges that women of colour are “particularly vulnerable targets” of discrimination within the company and that women are paid and promoted less than their male counterparts.

Shortly after the suit was filed, almost 1,500 Activision Blizzard employees signed a letter criticising Activision Blizzard’s official response to the lawsuit, stating “our values as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership”. Staff then conducted a walkout from company offices after listing demands for change. Not long after the organised walkout was conducted, Activision Blizzard hired a legal firm, Wilmer Hale to review the company’s policies concerning the lawsuit.

Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack
Blizzard Entertainment former president, J. Allen Brack. Credit: Blizzard Entertainment

The lawsuit led to Blizzard president J. Allen Brack stepping down after being named explicitly in legal filings. Not long after, Blizzard’s head of HR and multiple senior developers for World Of Warcraft and Diablo 4 also left. The studio also scrubbed all mentions of these developers from World Of Warcraft to “better reflect our shared values”.

The lawsuit filed in July would not be the last legal action that Activision Blizzard would face. In August, an Activision Blizzard shareholder sued the publisher, claiming that investors were left “economically damaged” after the company allegedly made “materially false and/or misleading” statements by attempting to downplay the severity of the lawsuit filed by California.

In September, several new lawsuits were filed against Activision Blizzard. One – filed by Communications Workers Of America (CWA) on behalf of AB employees – accused Activision Blizzard of engaging in “coercive tactics” to undermine employee efforts to organise. If true, this would violate federal labour laws.

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Last week (September 28), it was revealed that Activision Blizzard is now being investigated by the U.S. Securities And Exchange Commission (SEC). The investigation is reportedly examining whether Activision adequately disclosed to investors the severity of allegations made by the original lawsuit filed in July. An Activision spokesperson confirmed that the investigation is underway, adding that the studio is “cooperating with the SEC” with “the company’s disclosures regarding employment matters and related issues”.

Activision Blizzard Office
Credit: Activision Blizzard

Yesterday (September 27), the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed action relating to Activision Blizzard, alleging that AB employees were subject to “sexual harassment that was severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment”.

AB settled with EEOC for $18million (£13.1million). Speaking on the settlement, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said, “We thank the EEOC for its constructive engagement as we work to fulfil our commitments to eradicate inappropriate conduct in the workplace”.

In a press release, Activision Blizzard has outlined steps for the company going forward. Firstly, any remaining $18million fund that is not issued to claimants will be donated to “charities that advance women in the video game industry or promote awareness around harassment and gender equality issues”.

The company will also be aiming to “upgrading policies, practices, and training to prevent further and eliminate harassment and discrimination in its workplaces, including an expanded performance review system with a new equal opportunity focus”.

Finally, there will be “ongoing oversight and review” of Activision Blizzard’s training programmes, investigation policies and disciplinary action practices going forward.

In other news, Ubisoft has handed out a free Showdown pack to Rainbow Six Siege players to apologise for confusion over one of the event rewards.

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