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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Berkut

I think I made it pretty clear that there is definitely something wrong. Note my comment about smoke and fires.

I just don't like the idea that just BECAUSE there is smoke, we must assume there is fire, and start firing people without bothering to actually investigate, which is what seems to be demanded here, in that people are bitching about action not being taken.

Maybe action IS being taken, but that action takes time when taken with the deliberation and care that is due.

Or maybe they are doing fuck all and hoping it all blows over. It's pretty much impossible to tell.

What I can tell though it that the reporting is pretty clearly one sided and intended to get people to click on articles rather then inform anyone or try to actually understand what is going on.

The mob sells clicks, for sure.
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Sheilbh

Quote from: Berkut on August 02, 2021, 01:59:15 PMMaybe action IS being taken, but that action takes time when taken with the deliberation and care that is due.

Or maybe they are doing fuck all and hoping it all blows over. It's pretty much impossible to tell.
This isn't related to abuse per se. But based on my interactions with HR on literally any subject - I have my suspicions which is more likely :lol:
Let's bomb Russia!

Syt

Blizzard pres J.Allen Brack is out.

https://www.pcgamer.com/uk/blizzards-president-is-out-studio-to-be-co-led-by-a-woman-for-first-time-in-its-history/

QuoteBlizzard's president is out, studio to be co-led by a woman for first time in its history

By Rich Stanton about 1 hour ago

J. Allen Brack will be replaced by Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra as co-heads.

On July 20th, California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard collecting "numerous complaints about unlawful harassment, discrimination, and retaliation" at the company. Shortly afterwards, more than 3,000 Activision Blizzard employees signed an open letter to management speaking up for victims and making a call for "official statements that recognize the seriousness of the allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault."

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick promised a rapid response. Today Blizzard has announced that J. Allen Brack is leaving his position as the president of the studio, to be replaced by Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra as co-heads of the studio.

Jen Oneal has been at Blizzard since January, before which she was the studio head of Vicarious Visions. Mike Ybarra was a longtime Xbox employee, holding various positions there, before joining Blizzard in 2019 as an executive vice president. Blizzard's statement says: "Jen and Mike have more than three decades of gaming industry experience between them. Moving forward, they will share responsibilities over game development and company operations."

Brack had been named in the California lawsuit, specifically concerning how he'd dealt with allegations made against Alex Afrasiabi drinking too much and harassing female employees at company events. It's alleged Brack's punishment for Afrasiabi, verbal counseling, amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist for such behaviour.

Brack was also on-stage during a 2010 Blizzcon Q&A panel where the various developers' responses to a question about the over-sexualisation of characters is simply embarrassing.

Today's statement from Blizzard goes on to make explicit that this change is related to working culture:

"Both leaders are deeply committed to all of our employees; to the work ahead to ensure Blizzard is the safest, most welcoming workplace possible for women, and people of any gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or background; to upholding and reinforcing our values; and to rebuilding your trust. With their many years of industry experience and deep commitment to integrity and inclusivity, Jen and Mike will lead Blizzard with care, compassion, and a dedication to excellence."

As journalist and former Kotaku EIC Stephen Totilo pointed out, the timing of this seems tied to a quarterly earnings call today on which Brack would have been expected to field questions.

Here is a statement from J. Allen Brack, Blizzard's departing president:

"I am confident that Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will provide the leadership Blizzard needs to realize its full potential and will accelerate the pace of change. I anticipate they will do so with passion and enthusiasm and that they can be trusted to lead with the highest levels of integrity and commitment to the components of our culture that make Blizzard so special.

"Finally, thank you all for being a part of the Blizzard community, and for your passion and determination for safety and equality for all."

The discrimination lawsuit is just the latest in a long string of controversies involving Blizzard's management in recent times (here's a timeline of how the company's reputation has collapsed over the last three years). Between massive layoffs, numerous reports on its toxic workplace, and highly anticipated launches reportedly sabotaged by mismanagement, the perception of what used to be PC gaming's darling developer has changed utterly.

The Californian state's proceedings against Blizzard are still pending, and could last for months or years: here's everything we know about the current situation.



PC Gamer also has a handy timeline summary of the last two weeks (in reverse order):

https://www.pcgamer.com/uk/activision-blizzard-lawsuit-controversy-timeline-explained/

QuoteFriday, July 30: Vice publishes an article about Blizzard recruiters at a 2015 hacker conference harassing a security researcher who asked about a penetration testing (cybersecurity auditing) position. "One of them asked me when was the last time I was personally penetrated, if I liked being penetrated, and how often I got penetrated," she said.

On the same day, Waypoint writes about an Activision Blizzard IT worker at the company's Minnesota office who installed spy cameras in the unisex bathroom. He pleaded guilty in 2018 to "interference with privacy."

IGN also publishes a report based on interviews with seven current and former employees who speak to a number of issues, including women being evaluated differently than men inside Blizzard and breastfeeding rooms not having locks, at one point. One employee characterized the company's attempts to fix its culture as "putting lipstick on it."

Thursday, July 29: The New York Times publishes an investigation into Activision Blizzard with newly public accounts of sexual harassment and discrimination. An employee who worked at the company from 2014 to 2017 said she was paid less than her boyfriend, who joined the company at the same time doing the same work, and that a manager messaged her on Facebook asking what kind of porn she watched.

Another woman, who joined Activision in 2011 as a vice president, said that an executive "pressured her to have sex with him because she 'deserved to have some fun' after her boyfriend had died weeks earlier."

Wednesday, July 28: Employees hold a walkout at Blizzard HQ, while others participate in the work stoppage remotely. Employees also respond to CEO Bobby Kotick's letter saying they are "pleased to see that our collective voices... have convinced leadership to change the tone of their communications," but that Kotick "fails to address critical elements at the heart of employee concerns." The response reiterates the four demands from Tuesday. "Today's walkout will demonstrate that this is not a one-time event that our leaders can ignore. We will not return to silence; we will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point," the letter says.

Game developers across the industry share messages of solidarity with the walkout.

Kotaku publishes a report on Blizzard's "Cosby Suite," a recurring convention party room that Afrasiabi and other employees texted about bringing "hot chixx" to. Greg Street, a former World of Warcraft lead systems designer and current VP of MMO R&D at Riot, who is seen in a photo, claims that the hotel room was "a green room at Blizzcon that many of us at the time used to take a break and relax during the convention" and that "hot chixx" was a joke.

Activision Blizzard confirms to Kotaku that Alex Afrasiabi was terminated in 2020 "for his misconduct in his treatment of other employees."

Tuesday, July 27: The World of Warcraft team announces that it plans to remove references from WoW that are "not appropriate," likely including NPCs and items related to Alex Afrasiabi.

Employees state they plan to walk out on Wednesday to protest the company's response to the lawsuit. The open letter passes 3,000 signatories (Activision Blizzard has approximately 9,500 employees). The plans for the work stoppage come with four demands:

- An end to mandatory arbitration in employee contracts
- More diverse recruiting and hiring practices
- Publication of compensation data, promotion rates and salary ranges
- A company-wide Diversity, Equity & Inclusion task force empowered to hire a third party company to audit Activision Blizzard

Late Tuesday afternoon, CEO Bobby Kotick writes a public note to employees calling the company's initial response "tone deaf," and says "We are taking swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment. There is no place anywhere at our company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind."

Kotick's letter announces immediate steps to investigate claims, hold listening sessions, make personnel changes, enforce diverse hiring practices and change inappropriate in-game content.

"Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated."

Monday, July 26: Activision holds an "all-hands" meeting that only has room for 500 staff. Executive Joshua Taub reportedly attempts to address the lawsuit, saying that there's "zero tolerance" for the behavior described in the lawsuit, and that Activision Blizzard works with employees and the accused to "work on a resolution." Taub also says that Fran Townsend's response "wasn't the right communication."

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More than 1,000 current and former Activision Blizzard employees sign an open letter to management calling Townsend's statement "abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for." The employee statement continues "Our values as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership... Categorizing the claims that have been made as 'distorted, and in many cases false' creates a company atmosphere that disbelieves victims... Immediate corrections are needed from the highest level of our organization."

The letter ends with a statement that the employees "stand with all our friends, teammates, and colleagues, as well as the members of our dedicated community, who have experienced mistreatment or harassment of any kind."

Signatures from current and former continue to roll in.

Saturday, July 24: Former Blizzard senior vice president Chris Metzen tweets a response to the lawsuit, beginning with "We failed, and I'm sorry."


Friday July 23: Activision Blizzard chief compliance officer Fran Townsend sends a very different message to staff, calling the lawsuit's depiction of AB "distorted and untrue" and that Activision Blizzard "truly values equality and fairness." Townsend says that when she joined the executive leadership team in March 2021 she was certain she "was joining a company where I would be valued, treated with respect ,and provided opportunities equal to those afforded to the men of the company." Townsend reiterates the initial response that the lawsuit's claims were inaccurate.

Blizzard co-founder and former president Mike Morhaime publishes "My thoughts," stating "I wanted to acknowledge the women who had awful experiences. I hear you, I believe you, and I am so sorry to have let you down."

A video from BlizzCon 2010 goes viral on Twitter. During a WoW panel Q&A, a woman asks about the possibility of less sexualized female characters. The panelists, including Alex Afrasiabi and now-president J. Allen Brack, laugh and make jokes in response.

Thursday, July 22: Blizzard president J. Allen Brack emails staff to say that the behavior detailed in the suit is "completely unacceptable." Activision president Rob Kostich emails staff calling the allegations "deeply disturbing" and says that "we, as a company, take every allegation seriously."

Wednesday, July 21: News breaks that the lawsuit has been filed. In a statement sent to PC Gamer and other press outlets, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said that the lawsuit includes "distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past" and that the DFEH was "required by law to adequately investigate and to have good faith discussions with us to better understand and to resolve any claims or concerns before going to litigation, but they failed to do so. Instead, they rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court."

Tuesday, July 20: California Department of Fair Employment and Housing files a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard alleging discrimination and sexual harassment against women in the workplace. The lawsuit mentions "cube crawls" in which drunk male employees subjected women to unwanted advances; a lack of women in leadership positions; unequal pay for women; and a lack of action from HR around many of these complaints. The suit also specifically calls out the actions of former WoW senior creative director Alex Afrasiabi, who was "permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repurcussions."

What should we expect from the lawsuit itself?
The Department of Fair Employment and Housing's lawsuit has started a public maelstrom for Activision, but a court hearing could be weeks or months off—if the case goes to a trial at all.

"I don't see either case as going to an actual trial," lawyer Kellen Voyer tells PC Gamer, referring to the DFEH's case against Activision Blizzard as well as one it filed against Riot Games. "Typically the parties will settle out once the defendant has a better idea of the evidence being brought by the state and the strength of its case. The current negative press... is another reason why the companies will not want to go through a long, public trial."

The DFEH's news page shows a number of settlements from the past three years to resolve discrimination and harassment cases, for sums ranging from $50,000 to $6.2 million. Voyer points out that a sexual harassment case brought by the state is stronger than a case from an individual, partially becasue it's public rather than private arbitration. (Ending mandatory arbitration in Activision Blizzard contracts is one of the demands listed by employees who participated in the July 28 work stoppage.)

Because the DFEH's investigation into Activision Blizzard must have been ongoing for some time, Voyer says the lawsuit is a way to publicly push Activision Blizzard into a settlement. The DFEH filing does request a jury trial, but this is standard practice and doesn't rule out the likely possibility of a settlement before trial begins.

"Activision Blizzard will fight tooth and nail to avoid [a trial] as I would expect a jury (especially in California) to come down hard on the company," Voyer says. " A settlement is likely before it gets to that stage."

Going after a company as big as Activision Blizzard gives the DFEH a chance to make a public spectacle; even if it doesn't have strong enough evidence to push the company into a multi-million dollar settlement, it could have significant ramifications.

"To make an example of a company, even through the filing of the case and the negative PR that results for the company, will hopefully effectuate change through deterrence: by putting companies on notice that there are real, material, ramifications for failing to address toxic culture," Voyer says.

It's still possible that this case goes to trial. If it does, the DFEH will likely be pushing for big monetary penalties and for Activision Blizzard to open itself up to oversight as it enacts plans to repair its workplace issues.

If Blizzard won at trial, it would likely push for no monetary damages and, in Voyer's words, "the usual corporate, general promise of 'we will change and do better.'"
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Syt

Quote from: Sheilbh on August 02, 2021, 02:04:36 PM
Quote from: Berkut on August 02, 2021, 01:59:15 PMMaybe action IS being taken, but that action takes time when taken with the deliberation and care that is due.

Or maybe they are doing fuck all and hoping it all blows over. It's pretty much impossible to tell.
This isn't related to abuse per se. But based on my interactions with HR on literally any subject - I have my suspicions which is more likely :lol:

Considering how in the Ubisoft case, one of the accused harasser's was married to the head of HR at the time ...

Meanwhile, outside reviewers say Ubisoft have done little to address the issues brought forth last year besides giving some people a golden ass kick.
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viper37

Quote from: Berkut on August 02, 2021, 01:59:15 PM
I just don't like the idea that just BECAUSE there is smoke, we must assume there is fire, and start firing people without bothering to actually investigate, which is what seems to be demanded here, in that people are bitching about action not being taken.
I would agree with you about firing people just because there's smoke.

However, reading between the lines, I get the feeling that we are at this point now because there were many complaints & investigations, internals, than external by the California agency, and, the problem not only persists, but Blizzard seemed intent on sweeping it under the rug.  The 1000 employees who signed the letter are reacting to Blizzard's internal e-mail from the GOP waterboarding expert lady..

We can not presume anything about the 16 000 others.  Maybe they are fine with what's happening.  Maybe they are not.  Maybe they've never witnessed anything wrong.  Maybe they think Blizzard is exemplary. Maybe they think they will be retaliated against if they speak and they can't afford to loser their job, even temporarily.  Or maybe they think they'll be branded as difficult to work with for most video game companies in the US.  We do not know that.

I do not see the email as mob pressure to fire a list of specific someones.  More like an answer to that bullshit email saying everything was fine under California's sun.
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Razgovory

Quote from: Syt on August 03, 2021, 08:55:31 AM
Blizzard pres J.Allen Brack is out.


When they hired him I thought he might not be the guy for the job.  Very immature.


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garbon

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Quote from: Razgovory on August 03, 2021, 11:18:12 AM
Quote from: Syt on August 03, 2021, 08:55:31 AM
Blizzard pres J.Allen Brack is out.


When they hired him I thought he might not be the guy for the job.  Very immature.




Pfft. I support Moltar would have been better?
PDH!

Syt

https://www.pcgamer.com/activision-blizzard-q3-2021-earnings/

QuoteBlizzard morale takes a hit following co-leader's surprise resignation
By Tyler Wilde about 6 hours ago

Activision Blizzard reported big earnings, but the consequences of high-profile exits may continue to manifest.

On Tuesday, Activision Blizzard announced its financial results for the period that includes the July filing of California's discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit and the immediate aftermath. The headline for investors is that the company's revenue outlook for the end of the year is weaker than analysts projected, but it beat its third quarter forecast with net revenue of $2.07 billion, improving year-over-year with help from Diablo 2: Resurrected.

Finances felt like the call's secondary topic, however, as Activision Blizzard's leaders reiterated plans to overhaul recruiting and HR practices, and surprised employees with the news that Blizzard co-leader Jen Oneal is stepping down. The resignation came as a shock, and according to some has wounded morale at Blizzard just as it was starting to improve.

Last week, Activision Blizzard finally responded to a list of demands issued in July by the employees who organized a walkout. The company partially conceded to the demand to remove mandatory arbitration from employment contracts, agreeing to strike it for "individual sexual harassment and discrimination claims." Among a number of other things, Activision Blizzard has also promised increased pay transparency, recruiting policies that foster diversity, and a "zero-tolerance harassment policy," which will result in immediate firing and "forfeiture of future compensation."

A source inside Activision Blizzard told PC Gamer this week that they witnessed an overall positive response to last week's announcement. The timing was seen as suspect—the demands were acknowledged just in time to become talking points during Tuesday's investor call—but the partial win on arbitration was seen as a clear accomplishment, and the diverse recruiting policies reflect what individual Activision Blizzard teams have already been implementing without waiting for a corporate mandate. One thing still seen as missing is third-party oversight of hiring and HR practices, including by a committee chosen by employees, but the mood leading into the earnings call was certainly better than it was following a mistrusted email from executive Fran Townsend earlier in October.

However, the news that Oneal is stepping down as Blizzard co-leader just three months after taking the role has "killed" any morale boost from last week's concessions, according to that employee. Oneal and Mike Ybarra replaced former Blizzard boss J Allen Brack, who exited in August in the aftermath of the California lawsuit. With Oneal's resignation, Ybarra is now Blizzard's sole leader.

For some, Oneal's leadership was one of the best reasons they had to believe in a better future for Blizzard. They're now left wondering why Oneal would choose to leave so quickly, leading to speculation that something isn't being said.

"I am doing this not because I am without hope for Blizzard, quite the opposite—I'm inspired by the passion of everyone here, working towards meaningful, lasting change with their whole hearts," wrote Oneal in a letter to employees. "This energy has inspired me to step out and explore how I can do more to have games and diversity intersect, and hopefully make a broader industry impact that will benefit Blizzard (and other studios) as well."

Former Blizzard technical director Amy Dunham, who also announced her departure this week, pointed out that Blizzard's three most senior women all left this year.

"Before you make commitments to recruit more women (usually at entry level, where people have less choice to turn down opportunities), figure out and fix why all of your senior women choose to leave," she wrote on Twitter.

The past three months have seen a number of other resignations, as well as over 20 departures as the result of HR investigations and new, stricter policies. According to Tuesday's earnings report, the bottom line has been unscathed for now: Call of Duty's userbase is holding steady on PC and console, while Call of Duty Mobile has seen "double digit growth in the West" with a big jump in revenue. Blizzard's revenue grew 20% year-over-year due to the release of Diablo 2: Resurrected, Hearthstone enjoys stable popularity, and World of Warcraft is "on track" to have its best non-expansion year in a decade.

However, while Call of Duty: Vanguard releases this month and the next big Warzone update will be released in December, it was revealed during the earnings call that the next two big games from Blizzard are going to take longer than expected: Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 didn't have public release dates, but we learned that their internal development timelines have been extended.

Activision Blizzard partially attributed the delays to the departures of company leaders. Diablo 4 game director Louis Barriga left the company for unspecified reasons following the July allegations, though a corporate statement about ensuring "a safe, productive work environment" implied a connection. Overwatch executive producer Chacko Sonny left Blizzard in September for reasons unrelated to the lawsuit, and back in April, Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan also left the company.

Attrition isn't a new issue for Activision Blizzard: A former employee recently told PC Gamer that they witnessed waves of employees leaving voluntarily alongside the 2019 and 2020 layoffs. Beyond the Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 delays, other long-term consequences of the company's recent rate of employee turnover may still emerge.

"Our opportunities for growth have never been better, but we won't be able to realize all that growth potential without talent," said Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick during Tuesday's earnings call. "And to retain and attract the talent we need, we obviously have to be recognized as the very best place to work. This means we have to be the most welcoming and inclusive environment."

According to Kotick, the changes and initiatives announced so far are "just the beginning" of the company's plans, and employees and shareholders will receive quarterly updates on progress.
If we want to prevent catastrophic economic and societal change we will have to radically change our climate system.

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Grey Fox

In unrelated news, I have been invited to the Diablo Immortal closed beta.

I played 5 mins, it's fine. I don't usually play games on my phone so I have no basis of comparison. It made my phone very hot.
Colonel Caliga is Awesome.

Jacob

Bobby... Activision is very far from being recognized as the best place to work. You fucking shitheel.

viper37

Quote from: Jacob on November 03, 2021, 09:42:48 PM
Bobby... Activision is very far from being recognized as the best place to work. You fucking shitheel.
That's his goal, as stated to shareholders anyway, to be recognized as the best place to work. He does not say they are there yet.
I don't do meditation.<br />I drink alcohol to relax, like normal people.

If Microsoft Excel decided to stop working overnight, the world would practically end.

Jacob

Quote from: viper37 on November 04, 2021, 09:53:31 AM
That's his goal, as stated to shareholders anyway, to be recognized as the best place to work. He does not say they are there yet.

I'm telling him... or rather, more realistically, I'm telling you... that he has a long way to go because he's a shitheel and he's created and maintained a company that has a reputation for being shitty to work for.

viper37

Quote from: Jacob on November 05, 2021, 07:48:07 PM
Quote from: viper37 on November 04, 2021, 09:53:31 AM
That's his goal, as stated to shareholders anyway, to be recognized as the best place to work. He does not say they are there yet.

I'm telling him... or rather, more realistically, I'm telling you... that he has a long way to go because he's a shitheel and he's created and maintained a company that has a reputation for being shitty to work for.
Of course, and he may realize it, now.
I don't do meditation.<br />I drink alcohol to relax, like normal people.

If Microsoft Excel decided to stop working overnight, the world would practically end.