A California state agency is suing Activision Blizzard, the video game maker that produces Call of Duty, over claims of sexual harassment and discrimination.
After a two-year investigation, the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court that Activision fostered a “‘frat boy’ workplace culture.” Executives sexually harassed women, the agency said, and male employees openly joked about rape and drank alcohol while engaging in “inappropriate behavior” toward women at their cubicles during events known as “cube crawls.”
The lawsuit added that women were routinely paid less than men for similar work and were less likely to be promoted.
Activision’s workplace “is a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women,” the agency wrote. “Female employees are subjected to constant sexual harassment, including having to continually fend off unwanted sexual comments and advances by their male co-workers and supervisors and being groped at the ‘cube crawls’ and other company events.”
In one case, the lawsuit said, a female employee died by suicide during a business trip, as a result of her sexual relationship with her male supervisor. Before her death, male colleagues allegedly shared explicit photos of the woman, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit, which was reported earlier by Bloomberg Law, said the company’s executives and human resources department failed to address misconduct when they were informed of it.
In a statement, Activision said the “picture D.F.E.H. paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today,” adding that the company tries to pay employees fairly and has worked to address its culture and improve diversity in recent years. Activision employees for years have undergone anti-harassment training, and the company said it had created a confidential reporting hotline and team that investigates employee concerns, among other changes.
“There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind,” Activision wrote. “In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue.”
The company said California had failed to properly discuss the accusations with Activision before suing, and it chided the agency in particular for bringing up the employee suicide.
“It is this type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable state bureaucrats that are driving many of the state’s best businesses out of California,” Activision wrote.
The state employment agency declined to comment. It said in the lawsuit that it wanted Activision to compensate employees for unpaid wages, provide further recompense and pay punitive damages.
Activision, which is based in Santa Monica, Calif., and is worth about $70 billion, has nearly 10,000 employees. The company has faced criticism from its workers over wage disparities, especially as shareholders narrowly approved a $155 million pay package for the chief executive, Bobby Kotick, in June, making him one of the country’s highest-paid top executives.
Accusations of sexual harassment and discrimination are far from uncommon in the gaming industry, where game studios’ work forces, especially at the executive level, remain predominantly white and male. Last summer, dozens of women spoke out against such behavior, accusing people at various companies of misconduct — including at Activision and the French publisher Ubisoft — and prompting more calls for reform. The fair employment agency has also pursued legal action against Riot Games, the League of Legends game maker, accusing it of sex discrimination and sexual harassment.