Outrage is growing among employees and customers of video game maker Activision Blizzard, with both groups calling for company officials to fix thethat allegedly drove one woman to commit suicide, according to a sexual harassment lawsuit filed last week by California regulators.
More than 2,000 current and former employees, according to the latest tally, signed an open letter to company leadership earlier this week denouncing the game maker for its “abhorrent and insulting” response to a lawsuit by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The DFEH lawsuit accuses Santa Monica-based Activision Blizzard of gender pay discrimination and of allowing ongoing sexual harassment complaints to go unresolved. In the letter, employees petition for “immediate corrections … from the highest level of our organization.”
Activision Blizzard said last week that the lawsuit allegations are inaccurate, adding that “the picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today.”
Employees said they beg to differ, adding that company leaders haven’t taken the DFEH allegations of sexual harassment seriously. The employees are also planning a walkout on Wednesday in protest of the company’s response, the Orange County Register reported.
“To put it clearly and unequivocally, our value as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership,” employees said in the petition.
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick sent a letter to employees on Tuesday responding to some of the concerns they had raised, writing that the company’s initial response to the situation was “tone deaf.”
“It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way,” Kotick wrote. “I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.”
“We let them down”
Activision Blizzard is best known for creating Call of Duty, Overwatch and World of Warcraft. The company began as two separate entities — Activision and Blizzard — but joined forces during a 2008 merger with now-defunct Vivendi Games, the former parent company of Blizzard.
One of Blizzard’s original co-founders, Mike Morhaime, who is no longer with the company, tweeted last week that he read the California lawsuit documents and said “to the Blizzard women who experienced any of these things, I am extremely sorry that I failed you.”
“The fact that so many women were mistreated and were not supported means we let them down,” Morhaime tweeted.
The lawsuit, filed last Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, follows a two-year DFEH investigation into Activision Blizzard’s workplace culture that found evidence of female employees being subjected to sexual harassment including groping and unwanted advances, as well as pay inequities for women throughout the company, state officials said last week. The state officials also accused top executives at Activision Blizzard, all White males, of allowing male employees to routinely torment their female co-workers.
“In the office, women are subjected to cube crawls in which male employees drink copious amounts of alcohol as they ‘crawl’ their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees,” the lawsuit states.
World of Warcraft in-game sit-in
Blizzard President J. Allen Brack sent an email last week to employees that aid “the behavior detailed in the allegations is completely unacceptable,” calling them “extremely troubling.”
An unknown number of World of Warcraft players held an in-game sit-in to protest what they called “the unethical treatment of Activision Blizzard employees.” The players called for “lasting changes” at the company and said they “stand with the victims and survivors of Blizzard’s racism and abuse.”
Meanwhile, development on the game has come to a virtual halt, said Senior System Designer Jeff Hamilton, who recently tweeted, “I can tell you, almost no work is being done on World of Warcraft right now while this obscenity plays out. And that benefits nobody — not the players, not the developers, not the shareholders.”
Activision Blizzard stocks dropped more than 7.5% on Tuesday on news of the employee petition.
Death of employee
The lawsuit alleges a female employee committed suicide while on a company trip due to a sexual relationship she had been having with her male supervisor. The deceased woman had been suffering from continuous sexual harassment at work prior to her death, including an incident at a holiday party where male co-workers passed around a graphic nude photo of the female employee, the lawsuit claims.
Activision Blizzard has about 9,500 employees worldwide, 20% of which are women, according to court documents. Despite harassment complaints made by women employees to the company’s human resources department, officials never took meaningful action to improve conditions, the lawsuit alleges.
That has to change, employees said in their petition.
“We call on the executive leadership team to work with us on new and meaningful efforts that ensure employees — as well as our community — have a safe place to speak out and come forward,” they said.