Activision Blizzard Sued by California DFEH Over ‘Frat Boy’ Culture, Harassment

Started by Syt, July 22, 2021, 02:26:03 AM

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Syt

https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/activision-blizzard-sued-by-california-over-frat-boy-culture

QuoteActivision Blizzard Sued Over 'Frat Boy' Culture, Harassment

Video game giant Activision Blizzard Inc., maker of games including World of Warcraft and Diablo, fosters a "frat boy" culture in which female employees are subjected to constant sexual harassment, unequal pay, and retaliation, according to a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

A two-year investigation by the state agency found that the company discriminated against female employees in terms and conditions of employment, including compensation, assignment, promotion, and termination. Company leadership consistently failed to take steps to prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, the agency said.

According to the complaint, filed Tuesday in the Los Angeles Superior Court, female employees make up around 20% of the Activision workforce, and are subjected to a "pervasive frat boy workplace culture," including "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."

The agency alleges male employees play video games during the workday while delegating responsibilities to female employees, engage in sexual banter, and joke openly about rape, among other things.

Female employees allege being held back from promotions because of the possibility they might become pregnant, being criticized for leaving to pick their children up from daycare, and being kicked out of lactation rooms so male colleagues could use the room for meetings, the complaint says.

Female employees working for the World of Warcraft team noted that male employees and supervisors would hit on them, make derogatory comments about rape, and otherwise engage in demeaning behavior, the agency alleges.

The suit also points to a female Activision employee who took her own life while on a company trip with her male supervisor. The employee had been subjected to intense sexual harassment prior to her death, including having nude photos passed around at a company holiday party, the complaint says.

The agency seeks an injunction forcing compliance with workplace protections, as well as unpaid wages, pay adjustments, back pay, and lost wages and benefits for female employees.

"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," a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard said in a statement. "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," the statement continued.

"The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today," the company said.

Causes of Action: Employment discrimination because of sex; retaliation; failure to prevent discrimination and harassment; unequal pay.

Relief: Compensatory damages; punitive damages; unpaid wages; injunctive relief; declaratory relief; equitable relief; pre-judgment interest; attorneys' fees; costs.

Attorneys: Internal counsel represents the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

The case is Calif. Dep't of Fair Emp. & Housing v. Activision Blizzard Inc., Cal. Super. Ct., No. 21stcv26571, 7/20/21.


The court filing: https://aboutblaw.com/YJw













"unaccountable state bureaucrats"
SoCiaLisM!!!11  :rolleyes:

Question to the law people here - would the DFEH file such a high profile case without being reasonably sure they have a leg to stand on? :unsure:
If we want to prevent catastrophic economic and societal change we will have to radically change our climate system.

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The Brain

Quote"The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today," the company said.

Even the company doesn't deny that they've been naughty.

If the allegations are essentially correct, then I think that the company and responsible individuals ought to be punished in way that hurts and might make others of their kind reconsider their stance on basic decency.

Edit: now I read the Blizzard statement at the bottom. Wow. They appear to be unhinged. And even if you ignore the insane second paragraph, it's interesting that in the first paragraph they talk about measures they've taken to change the culture, but they tellingly don't say that they've actually changed the culture. Measures mean nothing. Results do.
Women want me. Men want to be with me.

Syt

If we want to prevent catastrophic economic and societal change we will have to radically change our climate system.

Proud owner of 42 Zoupa Points.

The Minsky Moment

Quote from: Syt on July 22, 2021, 02:26:03 AM
Question to the law people here - would the DFEH file such a high profile case without being reasonably sure they have a leg to stand on? :unsure:

On the one hand, it's not encouraging that the DFEH refers to "Bill Crosby".  Are they referring to a comedian, a former collaborator with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, or some chimera of the two?

On the other hand, Brain is right about the bizarre company response, which combines an admission of past guilt with an unrepentant and hysterical attack on the agency.  Reading that makes the DFEH allegations seem plausible.

It could come down to which party proves the most incompetent; at the moment, Blizzard appears to have taken a firm lead but I wouldn't count DFEH out just yet.
The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.
--Joan Robinson

crazy canuck

I don't understand why this is a matter for the court.  Doesn't the state have an administrative body to rule on such things?

This is something that would go before our Human Rights Tribunal or Worksafe (the administrative body which regulates safe workplaces, including being harassment free).  Those decisions would then be subject to judicial review by the court if there was some error in the initial decision or direction.  The court would not be the initial decision maker.

Seems a bit cumbersome to require a court process before meaning remedies can be applied when there is admitted bad behaviour.
I want you to panic

https://www.theguardian.com/science/video/2019/jan/25/i-want-you-to-panic-16-year-old-greta-thunberg-issues-climate-warning-at-davos-video

"Woke" is now almost exclusively used by those who seek to deride it, those who chafe at the activism from which it sprang. Opponents to the idea are seeking to render it toxic. They use it to stand in for change itself, for evolution, for an accurate assessment of history and society that makes them uncomfortable and deflates their hagiographic view of American history.

Syt

An email by Fran Townsend, an Activision Blizzard compliance executive, to the staff. She joined in March this year.

From 2004-2007 she was Homeland Security Advisor for GWB, and she was on the shortlist to replace Comey at the FBI. :unsure:



The email was apparently not well received.

https://www.pcgamer.com/uk/activision-blizzard-employees-denounce-corporate-statements-we-are-here-angry-and-not-so-easily-silenced/

QuoteActivision Blizzard employees denounce corporate statements: 'We are here, angry, and not so easily silenced'

Over 20 current Activision Blizzard employees, including World of Warcraft lead game designer Jeremy Feasel, have publicly criticized the company's response to the sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit filed against it earlier this week. Some WoW developers also stopped work today "in solidarity with the women that came forward," Feasel said.

The suit, filed by a California government agency, alleges that women at the company have faced "constant sexual harassment" and discrimination, especially women of color. The response from Activision Blizzard executives has been inconsistent. In its first statement to press, the company called the suit "distorted, and in many cases false" and characterized the agency behind it as a group of "unaccountable bureaucrats." In an internal email, chief compliance officer Fran Townsend also said that the suit "presented a distorted and untrue picture" of Activision Blizzard, and criticized it for "including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories."

Internal emails from Blizzard president J Allen Brack and Activision president Rob Kostich struck a different tone, calling the behavior alleged in the lawsuit "unacceptable" and "disturbing," although neither affirmed that such behavior has occurred at the company.

On social media, dozens of former employees expressed support for the stories told in the lawsuit and, in some cases, corroborated details. Now over 20 current Activision Blizzard employees have expressed public disapproval of Activision Blizzard's response to the suit, with dozens more showing support by retweeting their coworker's statements.

"Many of us will not be working today in solidarity with the women that came forward," wrote lead game designer Jeremy Feasel. "The statements made by [Activision Blizzard] do not represent us. We believe women, and we will continue to strive to do better and hold others accountable. Actions speak louder than words."

The World of Warcraft team has been "going through a mix of outrage and sorrow and hurt," said narrative designer Steve Danuser, who went on to say that he's interested in fixing the company and industry, not "corporate bullshit statements."

Many more employees expressed similar feelings:

"I'm unhappy with the corporate response up to this point," said game designer Brian Holinka. "I don't feel it represents me or what I believe in. Many of us have said this internally. It feels worth saying publicly."

"These past few days have made me furious at the COMPANY I work for, but so proud of the PEOPLE I work with," tweeted a user named Burk, who works at Blizzard as an associate producer. "Everyone is rallying together, listening, speaking out against the atrocious responses, and demanding action. We are here, angry, and not so easily silenced."

"I stand with the [Activision Blizzard] victims & believe their stories," tweeted Blizzard UX researcher Nikki Crenshaw. "To claim that these stories are 'factually incorrect' or 'untrue' is a slap in the face to current & former employees, & does not represent my core values."

"Really hope that Blizzard puts out a statement on this situation that I actually agree with and can support, and not more legal defense posturing," wrote Kyle Hartline, a server and live ops producer on World of Warcraft. "Because the stuff said so far is unacceptable and doesn't represent me. And I know I'm not alone in feeling that way here."

"I've heard horror stories all of which I know are true and shouldn't be dismissed," tweeted Elsbeth Larkin, a tools software engineer for World of Warcraft. "The fact that [Activision Blizzard] dismissed it not once but twice is appalling."

In addition to personal statements, many developers are also tweeting statements that read: "This tweet is my own and does not represent the views of my company. I do not support any attempt by AB to diminish the very real damage done to victims of harassment at Blizzard. We absolutely must hear and support the women at our company, both current and past."

At the time of writing, Activision Blizzard has not responded publicly to these expressions of distrust and frustration from employees. We've asked for comment from the company, and will have more as the story develops throughout the next week and beyond.

If we want to prevent catastrophic economic and societal change we will have to radically change our climate system.

Proud owner of 42 Zoupa Points.

The Brain

A list of what they have done, but nothing about what they have achieved. What a shocker. Also a shocker that firing people for unacceptable behavior is not on the list of things they've done.
Women want me. Men want to be with me.

Oexmelin

Having defended the use of torture by the US, Fran Townsend is well-placed to defending the undefendable, I guess.
Que le grand cric me croque !

Razgovory

It is good that employees are standing with their coworkers rather than victim blaming or simply ignoring the problem.
I've given it serious thought. I must scorn the ways of my family, and seek a Japanese woman to yield me my progeny. He shall live in the lands of the east, and be well tutored in his sacred trust to weave the best traditions of Japan and the Sacred South together, until such time as he (or, indeed his house, which will periodically require infusion of both Southern and Japanese bloodlines of note) can deliver to the South it's independence, either in this world or in space.  -Lettow April of 2011

Raz is right. -MadImmortalMan March of 2017

Sheilbh

Quote from: Oexmelin on July 24, 2021, 11:54:43 AM
Having defended the use of torture by the US, Fran Townsend is well-placed to defending the undefendable, I guess.
I don't want to go full anti-woke - but the combination of the security state and corporate "diversity and inclusion" efforts is gross and also a very 21st century thing.
Let's bomb Russia!

grumbler

Quote from: Sheilbh on July 24, 2021, 04:39:50 PM
Quote from: Oexmelin on July 24, 2021, 11:54:43 AM
Having defended the use of torture by the US, Fran Townsend is well-placed to defending the undefendable, I guess.
I don't want to go full anti-woke - but the combination of the security state and corporate "diversity and inclusion" efforts is gross and also a very 21st century thing.

I can't think of another example of a high-level intel person going to work for a gaming company in HR/Legal, but am willing to see evidence that shows that this is a thing.
The future is all around us, waiting, in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.   -G'Kar

Bayraktar!

Sheilbh

It's not that it's common or to do with personnel, more distinctively 21st century - another example would be things like the CIA pride recruitment videos.
Let's bomb Russia!

grumbler

Quote from: Sheilbh on July 24, 2021, 06:13:49 PM
It's not that it's common or to do with personnel, more distinctively 21st century - another example would be things like the CIA pride recruitment videos.

I don't know what "distinctively 21st century" even means in this context.  Arbitrary divisions of time only make sense for accounting purposes; they have no prescriptive effects.  Not many CIA recruitment videos in the 20th Century because there was no way to distribute them; YouTube was not founded until 2005, well into the 21st century.
The future is all around us, waiting, in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.   -G'Kar

Bayraktar!

viper37

Quote from: crazy canuck on July 23, 2021, 11:02:11 AM
I don't understand why this is a matter for the court.  Doesn't the state have an administrative body to rule on such things?
If America was great again, these people would simply meet at dawn and duel it out.
Unfortunately, nowadays, it's a job for the courts.  Nothing is sacred anymore. :(
Seriously, I don't think I've ever heard of this concept (the Worksafe or Administrative tribunal for work related stuff) in the US.   I'm curious...
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The Minsky Moment

Quote from: crazy canuck on July 23, 2021, 11:02:11 AM
I don't understand why this is a matter for the court.  Doesn't the state have an administrative body to rule on such things?

This is something that would go before our Human Rights Tribunal or Worksafe (the administrative body which regulates safe workplaces, including being harassment free).  Those decisions would then be subject to judicial review by the court if there was some error in the initial decision or direction.  The court would not be the initial decision maker.

Seems a bit cumbersome to require a court process before meaning remedies can be applied when there is admitted bad behaviour.

Don't know how it works in California; every state does things their own way.

At the federal level, the EEOC does handle some complaints administratively, but most contested matters are litigated in the courts.  It is common for private disputes to be settled at the agency level, in which case the courts don't get involved.

As a practical matter, no private party that contests the charges, as Blizzard is doing here, would accept the kind of remedies being sought in this case without invoking their right to judicial review.

The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.
--Joan Robinson