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Former female employees of Activision Blizzard (ATVI) are coming forward to share their experiences at the company after a California state agency filed a civil rights lawsuit against the gaming giant alleging widespread sexual harassment and gender and racial discrimination.
The suit, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as unpaid wages, has kicked off a firestorm against the “Call of Duty” and “World of Warcraft” maker, with users across social media platforms lambasting the company for its alleged behavior and several employees claiming they were also discriminated against at Activision Blizzard.
“I was there from 2015 to 2016, and it was as bad as described in the documents then,” Cher Scarlett, a former software engineer for Activision Blizzard’s Battle.net, told Yahoo Finance.
In response to the suit, Activision Blizzard said it takes allegations of misconduct and harassment seriously and that action was taken in cases related to the suit. But the company also moved to discredit the allegations made by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
“The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past,” the company said. “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.”
Activision Blizzard's 'frat house' atmosphere
The suit portrays a company that allowed unchecked harassment to fester for years, with men groping female colleagues and women being denied promotions and raises. One woman died by suicide due to a relationship with a male supervisor, the complaint alleged. The same woman was also allegedly harassed by other coworkers who shared a nude image of her at a holiday party.
The suit, in particular, alleges Scarlett’s former team fostered a “frat house” atmosphere.
According to the suit, one employee noted that “women on the Battle.net team were subjected to disparaging comments, the environment was akin to working in a frat house, and that women who were not ‘huge gamers’ or ‘core gamers’ and not into the party scene were excluded and treated as outsiders.”
Jennifer Klasing, who worked for Activision Blizzard from 2013 to 2020, tweeted that she experienced similar gender discrimination to those mentioned in the suit.
“I would get told I was ‘too direct’ with my manner of speaking, while male coworkers were never similarly chastised. I was called emotional, unreasonable, and unprofessional,” she wrote.
“I have heard of male coworkers getting in screaming matches with their manager, and [getting] promoted after.”
Racial discrimination was also a problem, according to the suit. When one African American female employee asked to take time off, she had to submit a one-page summary of how she would spend that time— something her colleagues didn’t have to do, the complaint alleged.
Sexual harassment and gender discrimination pervade the gaming industry. French gaming giant Ubisoft faced a similar reckoning in 2020, leading to the resignation of five executives, while a 2018 Kotaku report found women at Riot Games, creator of the popular “League of Legends,” experienced widespread harassment and discrimination. The company acknowledged the matter and developed its own diversity and inclusion team.
The roughly half of women who are gamers have faced discrimination, as well. Notoriously, a misogynist movement known as Gamergate began in 2014 and targeted female game developers and gamers under the guise of ethics in games journalism.
The California case will likely take time to wind its way through the courts, but it’s unlikely to be the last time a gaming company finds itself under fire for its treatment of women.
For Scarlett, there’s only one solution to the industry-wide problem.
“Legal repercussions would be the only way to stop this form being so pervasive,” she said.
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