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California sues Activision Blizzard over unequal pay, “sexist culture”

“Call of Duty” and “World of Warcraft” maker Activision Blizzard is accused of fostering a “pervasive frat boy workplace culture,” that subjects women to harassment, abuse and lower pay, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this week by the state of California.

Why it matters: Activision Blizzard is one of the biggest gaming companies in the world and must now answer a litany of allegations.

  • California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing says it filed the suit following a two-year investigation and a failure to mediate the issues with Activision Blizzard.
  • The game-maker calls the suit “distorted.”

Between the lines: In a filing full of vivid anecdotes, the department describes “‘cube crawls’ in which male employees drink copious amounts of alcohol” and move through office cubicles, engaging in “inappropriate behavior toward female employees.”

  • It claims Activision Blizzard and its subsidiaries promote women more slowly and terminate them more quickly than their male counterparts.”
  • Blizzard management is accused of failing to take sufficient action when alerted by employees, some of whom are said to have been retaliated against.
  • The suit says women of color were “particularly vulnerable targets” of discriminatory practices at the company.

What they’re saying: “The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past,” a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard told Axios.

  • The company says it cooperated with the California group’s investigation but “they refused to inform us what issues they perceived.”
  • While critical of the DFEH, the game-maker also says it has improved its culture, citing internal employee hotlines and a strengthened commitment to diversity.
  • “Over the past several years and continuing since the initial investigation started, we’ve made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams.”

The big picture: Game companies have been accused of operating as boy’s clubs for years, leading to mistreatment of women and other marginalized employees.

  • In February, the DFEH said it was suing “League of Legends” giant Riot Games, which in 2019 had agreed to pay a settlement of at least $10 million to women who worked at the company.
  • Another of gaming’s biggest companies, Ubisoft, has been subject to numerous complaints about sexual misconduct, leading to the departure of several top men from that gaming giant.

What’s next: Activision Blizzard has vowed to refute the DFEH claims in court.

  • Since news of the suit broke, first reported by Bloomberg News yesterday, women who worked at Blizzard have shared their stories on Twitter to say that they were harassed or discriminated against while working at the company.

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