Video Game Company Sued Over 'Frat Boy Culture' Of Sexual Harassment

by Kristina Johnson
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Video game company Activision is sued after investigation into horrifying treatment of female employees

A California-based video game company is being sued by the state, following a two-year investigation into its work practices. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed legal documents alleging an entrenched culture of sexism at Activision Blizzard, one that put female employees at risk and may have even contributed to one’s death by suicide.

Activision Blizzard is one of the biggest video game companies in the world, boasting titles like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Candy Crush Saga. It’s got more than 100 million users around the world and about 9,500 employees. That workforce is only about 20 percent women, however, and court documents say its leadership team is exclusively male and white. Let’s pause for a moment here and pretend to be shocked by that.

The investigation also says that women have been paid less, are less likely to get promoted, and more likely to be fired. That’s infuriating, of course, but it gets so, so much worse. The lawsuit alleges that female employees were routinely subjected to sexual harassment, unwanted advances, and even groping. One female employee reported that a colleague made comments about her breasts, while another said she had to listen to a male supervisor recommend that another employee “buy a prostitute to cure his bad mood.”

In the most tragic example listed — the documents say a female employee was humiliated when an explicit picture of her was passed around at a company party. She later died by suicide “during a business trip with a male supervisor who had brought butt plugs and lubricant with him on the trip.” It honestly makes my stomach ache to even have to type those words, and I literally can’t imagine the pain that woman and so many other female colleagues were forced to deal with it.

DFEH said Activision Blizzard’s “frat boy culture” was a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women,” and claims that culture is still thriving right now. “Male employees proudly come into work hungover, play video games for long periods of time while delegating their responsibilities to female employees, engage in banter about their sexual encounters, talk openly about female bodies, and joke about rape.” (The emphasis there is mine, because seriously, WTF?) The gross behavior is apparently dubbed the “cube crawl,” when these slimeballs move from cubicle to cubicle looking for a woman to corner.

Honestly, I could go on all day about the awful things the men at this company are accused of doing, but sadly, it’s probably not even necessary because so many women in so many different fields have experienced similar mistreatment and know exactly what it’s like. What matters now is stopping and punishing the behavior, and to that end the DFEH has a long list of demands — including getting Activision Blizzard to comply with the workplace protections it should have been honoring in the first place, as well as providing back pay and benefits to female employees who should have received them.

Former employees took to Twitter to chime in on the lawsuit and praise those who spoke out — and to express their hopes that a long overdue change could be coming to the video game industry. Fans, too, expressed shock and outrage.

Activision Blizzard, of course, is disputing many of the allegations. It released a statement that said in part: “The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past. We have been extremely cooperative with the DFEH throughout their investigation, including providing them with extensive data and ample documentation, but they refused to inform us what issues they perceived… The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today.” (To which I say, sure, Jan.) For now, it’ll be up to a judge to decide.