California suing game publishing studio over culture of 'constant sexual harassment'

California suing game publishing studio over culture of 'constant sexual harassment'
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California is suing a publishing company behind popular video games, alleging it of fostering a “frat boy” workplace culture that subjected women at the company to sexual harassment and lower pay than their male peers. 

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed the lawsuit Wednesday against Activision Blizzard, the company behind video game franchises such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. The state alleges the game publisher, based in Sunnyvale, violated California's Equal Pay Act and Fair Housing and Employment Act.

The complaint alleges the company assigned women to lower-paid and lower-opportunity levels at the company. Women allegedly received lower starting pay and earned less than male counterparts for “substantially similar work.”

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“Faced with such adverse terms and conditions of employment, many women have been forced to leave the company,” the complaint states. 

The state alleged the company had a “frat boy” culture that is a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.” 

Activision Blizzard rejected the allegation, accusing the California agency’s complaint of including “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past,” according to a statement from an Activision Blizzard spokesperson. 

“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 spokesperson said in a statement. 

The complaint also alleges women at the company were subject to “cube crawls” where male employees “drink copious amounts of alcohol as they ‘crawl’ their way” through office cubicles and “often engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees.”

“Female employees are subjected to constant sexual harassment, including having to continually fend off unwanted sexual comment and advances by their male co-workers and supervisors and being groped at the ‘cube crawls’ and other company events,” the complaint alleges.

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The DFEH points to one specific “tragic example” in which a female employee took her own life during a business trip with a male supervisor after allegedly facing sexual harassment. 

Activision Blizzard pushed back on that allegation specifically in its statement. 

“We are sickened by the reprehensible conduct of the DFEH to drag into the complaint the tragic suicide of an employee whose passing has no bearing whatsoever on this case and with no regard for her grieving family,” the company reportedly said. 

The suit also alleges that the company failed to take “effective remedial measures” after numerous complaints about harassment, discrimination and retaliation. 

The company spokesperson said in the statement that Activision Blizzard has “amplified internal programs and channels” for employees to report violations, including adding a confidential integrity hotline and introducing an employee relations team dedicated to investigating employee concerns.