U.S. based- video game company Activision Blizzard was sued on Tuesday over a culture of constant sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination.
The lawsuit filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) against the company was a result of a two-year investigation that revealed top executives were aware and/or involved of unequal pay, promoting men over women, and widespread sexual harassment.
The complaint highlights those male employees of the gaming company discuss sexual encounters and joke about rape.
“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 DFEH legal filing claims.
In another scenario outlined in the complaint, the company refused to deal with a former senior creative director, Alex Afrasiabi, who the department said was “permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussion.”
That included inappropriately flirting with fellow female colleagues, telling them he wanted to marry them, and putting his arms around them, to the point that other male employees had to “pull him off female employees.”
Additionally, the complaint proved that women were allegedly paid less than men. According to the lawsuit, women were also assigned to lower-level positions and passed over for promotions, despite doing more work than their male peers in some cases.
One woman said her manager informed her that her promotion would be withheld since “she might get pregnant and like being a mom too much.”
“All employers should ensure that their employees are being paid equally and take all steps to prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish.
“This is especially important for employers in male-dominated industries, such as technology and gaming,” Kish added.
In response, the company behind World of Warcraft and Candy Crush said it was cooperative with the agency in its investigation, and that the DFEH refused to inform them of certain accusations it had discovered. In fact, it considered the accusations “distorted, and in many cases, false,” and said it valued diversity in the workplace and inclusivity for everyone.
Blizzard also cited new anti-harassment trainings, a confidential tip line for employees to report violations and performance-based compensation as its efforts to improve.
As the suit surfaced, numerous women stepped forward to corroborate allegations.
“I’m going to come out and say it. I was one of these women. My incident happened in 2013 at BlizzCon. I didn’t say anything officially until I decided to leave the company last year, because of the name recognition and fear of retaliation,” wrote Stephanie Krutsick, a former producer for the company, on Twitter.
It’s worth noting that experts had highlighted that the allegations in the lawsuit echoed prior accusations made within other companies in the gaming industry.
“We cannot allow harassment and toxicity to go unchecked. We must support inclusion and diversity within our industry so that we may all thrive together and support the development of our future talents as well,” said Renee Gittins, executive director of the International Game Developers Association.
Gittins said that the association had developed guidebooks to help game studios implement human resources policies, improve their culture and prevent toxicity from thriving.
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