The Activision Blizzard sexual harassment allegations are causing an employee walkout. The company is being sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for sexual discrimination in the workplace.
Blizzard is a household name, publishing hit games like the MMORPG World of Warcraft, card game Hearthstone, or the RTS series Starcraft.
The lawsuit followed a two-year inquiry into the company by the State of California. The investigation discovered cases of sexual discrimination. The lawsuit states the cases in question are mostly about harassment towards women, affecting pay and mental health, even to the point of suicide in one case.
Going into details, the suit addresses cases of sexual harassment, unfair workloads, and wages for women, drug and alcohol use at work, as well as sexual advances. The lawsuit also points out that women are less likely to receive promotions or job advancements, and that the company leadership is composed of only men.
The announcement for the walkout came in a letter of intent. It stated that the employees feel that the management is not reflecting their core values. The letter also came with a list of demands. These are intended to improve working conditions for those who experienced harassment or discrimination.
The walkout named Activision Blizzard Walkout for Equality happened on July 28, 2021. Several hundred employees congregated at the main Blizzard campus in Irvine, California, displaying signs and chanting. To combat the California heat they also set up stands with sunblock and refreshments. The protest was also virtual, with people joining in on social media and even inside Blizzard’s games.
Troubling Response from the Leadership
Responses from the Activision Blizzard executives have caused a lot of anger. Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision Blizzard, first sent a company-wide letter that had many up in arms. He called the lawsuit tone-deaf, distorted, and false.
Kotick received a lot of criticism recently, as the CEO received a $150 million bonus in 2020, during company-wide layoffs. After the reactions to his letter, he went on to issue another statement, now admitting his response was tone-deaf.
Chief Compliance Officer, Fran Townsend said the lawsuit presented an untrue picture of the company. She went on to call the lawsuit meritless and irresponsible. This had employees fuming.
Blizzard president J. Allen Brack stated in an internal email that the lawsuit is completely unacceptable. Brack went on to encourage employees to speak out. He stated Blizzard will be working to find a way to move forward from this. What is troubling is that the lawsuit accused Brack of ignoring or disregarding complaints in the past.
Brack worked alongside former Senior Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi. The lawsuit mentions Afrasiabi as responsible for some of the harassment. The employees stated Brack and the rest of the management team knew about Afrasiabi’s behavior and only gave him a slap on the wrist.
Employees and Former Leaders Speak Out
Once the news went public, many current and former employees spoke out about the situation.
Game Designer Brian Holinka stated that the original response from the company does not represent how the employees feel.
Narrative Designer Steve Danuser wrote that the World of Warcraft team has been feeling outrage, sorrow, and hurt.
Olivia Burkhart, an Associate Producer at Blizzard, tweeted about how proud she is of the people she works with but furious at the company.
Chris Metzen, former Senior Vice President, tweeted his apology. In it, he stated that he felt he had failed the employees and was sorry about fostering toxic company culture. Blizzard co-founder Mike Morhaime joined him in expressing sorrow and shared the feeling of failure. Many pointed out that both Metzen and Morhaime were present in the company for a long time and that a lot of these accusations happened on their watch.
We will keep you updated as the story develops.
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