Last week, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing brought sexual harassment and gender discrimination claims against Activision Blizzard and its subsidiary Blizzard Entertainment. Male employees at these video game companies allegedly committed severe verbal and physical harassment against female employees. According to the complaint, female employees faced groping and unwanted touching, as well as pervasive jokes about sexual assault and other sexual remarks and advances. Rather than disciplining employees for their misconduct, supervisors and executives allegedly tolerated the harassment and sometimes even participated in it. Many female employees have confirmed the statements in the DFEH complaint and compared the workplace to a college fraternity. Significant alcohol use by male employees also played a role in the harassment.
In addition to engaging in sexual harassment, supervisors at these video game companies reportedly refused to promote deserving women. This illegal conduct accompanied gender stereotyping, such as comments that female employees might start families and lose interest in their jobs. The companies also paid women less than men in similar positions and openly discouraged women from complaining about harassment or discrimination to the human resources department. HR allegedly had close relationships with the perpetrators.
Activision Blizzard released a lengthy statement denying the claims and asserting that it has consistently acted to address any incidents of misconduct that have occurred. The company also cites changes to its workplace culture since DFEH started its investigation. These changes have been designed to improve diversity and provide more opportunities for employees to report harassment and discrimination. Activision Blizzard asserts that it has required employees to undergo anti-harassment training for many years, and it has provided anti-discrimination training to supervisors who control the pay of employees. It argues that any differences in pay are based on performance.
Claims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination have previously arisen in the video game industry. For example, many Ubisoft employees recently reported that they had experienced or witnessed sexual harassment. Riot Games also paid at least $10 million to current and former female employees to settle similar claims.
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