The government of California, USA, has filed a lawsuit against the Activision Blizzard in July 2021: Legal documents contained allegations of sexual and moral harassment, especially against employees of the game company. More than 40 reports were attached to the text and, since then, little has been done by the company, even with pressure from the public and employees, via protests and marches. Understand the case.
The beginning of the process
The process began to circulate on the network from Twitter accounts, especially the CharlieIntel, specialized in Call of Duty. Soon, journalist Jason Schreier, from Bloomberg, echoed the information, adding some details found in its sources and also with more content of the process itself. Sites specialized in the games industry market, such as gammasutra, followed.
Investigations into the cases have been going on since 2018, that is, it is not something new. The wording of the lawsuit – filed by the government agency California Department of Fair Employment and Housing – indicates that the government tried to collaborate with Activision Blizzard to resolve the cases without getting to worse stages, but that the company failed to try to solve the problems within the levels acceptable, possibly fearing that the details would reach the public or the press.
The gigantic process is available on this link, only in English, and brings several reports of embarrassing and even criminal situations that happened between employees and employees of Activision Blizzard. Among some of the testimonies, a history of harassment with jokes about rape, employees who were not promoted even though they had superior abilities than male employees and even the case of a former employee who took her own life after going through an abusive relationship with her supervisor at Blizzard.
In an initial response to the lawsuit, Blizzard issued the following extensive statement, but it is important to read in full:
We value diversity and strive to promote a workplace that offers inclusion for everyone. There is no place in our company or industry, or in any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind. We take all allegations seriously and investigate all complaints. In cases related to misconduct, measures were taken to resolve the problem.
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 extensive data and extensive documentation, but they declined to let us know what problems they noticed. They were required by law to properly investigate and have good faith discussions with us to better understand and resolve any complaints or concerns before litigating, but they did not. Instead, they rushed to file an inaccurate claim, as we’re going to speak up in court. We are disgusted by DFEH’s reprehensible conduct of dragging out the tragic suicide of an employee whose death has nothing to do with this case and without consideration for her bereaved family. It’s disgraceful and unprofessional, unfortunately it’s an example of how they behaved throughout their investigation. The kind of irresponsible behavior of irresponsible state bureaucrats who are driving out many of California’s best businesses.
The image DFEH paints is not Blizzard’s workplace today. In recent years and continuing from the beginning of the initial investigation, we have made significant changes to address the company’s culture and reflect more diversity in our leadership teams, our Code of Conduct to emphasize a strict non-retaliation focus, expanded internal programs and channels to that employees report violations, including the ‘ASK List’ with a confidential integrity hotline, and has introduced an Employee Relations team dedicated to investigating employee concerns. We reinforce our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and combine our employee networks on a global level to provide additional support. Employees must also undergo anti-harassment training on a regular basis and have been doing so for many years. We have compensation packages and policies that reflect our culture and business, and we strive to pay all employees fairly for equal or substantially similar work. We take a number of proactive steps to ensure that payment is driven by non-discriminatory factors. For example, we reward employees based on their performance and conduct comprehensive anti-discrimination training, including for those who are part of the compensation process.
We are confident in our ability to demonstrate our practices as an equal opportunity employer that promotes a supportive, diverse and inclusive work environment for our people, and we are committed to continuing this effort for years to come. It’s a shame that DFEH didn’t want to talk to us about what they thought they were seeing in their investigation.
Despite being extensive, the statement was not looked upon with good eyes by the community and employees. In short, the text refutes accusations made in the process and says that the entire legal process inflated the complaints made by workers and former employees of Blizzard, which worsened the situation. The communiqué also obviously did not invalidate the process.
Repercussion between players and former employees
The case soon gained great proportions. It turns out that Blizzard has always had a very strong progressive image. Their games are diverse, representative and preach respect for all types of audiences. Even details were noticed, such as the nationality of several characters present in Overwatch, for example. Seeing the company in the sea of mud of so many reports of sexual and moral harassment had a quick and damaging effect.
players of World of Warcraft (WoW) organized a protest within the game in defense of employees who denounced cases of sexual abuse within the company, on July 22, shortly after the denunciations. Hundreds of people gathered in the center of Oribos, demanding transparent changes in the company’s culture.
The protest was organized by the Fence Macabre guild, which has both Alliance and Horde clans in the Wyrmrest Accord and Moon Guard realms. In addition to the Fence Macabre members themselves, the protest also brought together players from other kingdoms and clans.
In addition to the protest, Fence Macabre started to collect donations for the NGO Black Girls CODE, which teaches programming to black girls from 7 to 17 years old. On the occasion, on the same day, more than US$ 9,200 (approximately R$ 47,600) were collected by the participants.
On the other hand, Mike Morhaime, former head of Blizzard, decided to speak in the same week, on July 26th. Morhaime has always been known as one of the bastions of respect, empathy and diversity within Blizzard. His departure, in 2018, was not welcomed by fans, precisely because he is a figure who constantly worked to promote a safe and healthy work environment for everyone.
the president’s hypocrisy
The then president of Blizzard, J. Allen Brack, was removed from office only on 3 August. The leadership role was taken by the duo formed by Jennifer Oneal and Mike Ybarra. The executive left the company to pursue new challenges, but the timing helps to realize that his departure is totally related to the complaints and cases of harassment that he was unable to repair.
Days earlier, on July 23, Brack emailed an internal memo to employees, which journalist Jason Schreier posted on his Twitter feed. In his words, Brack said things like “although I cannot comment on the details of the case as this is an ongoing investigation, I can say that the behavior detailed in the allegations is totally unacceptable.” Brack also wrote that he always fought for equality and against “bro culture”, which is basically the macho culture that harms women in the workplace.
The problem is that this was not seen in a video posted on Twitter to counter Brack’s claims in late July. In the video, in a BlizzCon 10 years ago, a caucus of male producers, including J. Allen Brack, mocks a player from World of Warcraft, which points out that the female characters in the game seem to have come out of a catalog of the Victoria’s Secret modeling agency, that is, sexualized.
Oh god, I’d not seen this before. It’s heartbreaking.
Here’s a 2010 Blizzcon panel in which a fan was brave enough to ask a full panel of men, including J. Allen Brack (left) & Alex Afrasiabi (right) Whether there’s scope for some of the female characters to be less sexualized pic.twitter .com/Elaf3K7KVc
— Chris Bratt (@chrisbratt) July 23, 2021
Even though the case occurred more than 10 years ago, it matches some content of the complaints, as the investigation was only started in 2018 – indicating that the cases occurred longer ago. In addition, Fran Townsend, an executive at Activision Blizzard, even sent an internal statement, saying the charges in the lawsuit conveyed the wrong image of a company and had no merit.
Employees unite and the company reacts
What happened after that, but before Brack’s departure, was a series of protests and complaints from current Blizzard employees. On July 27, more than 2,000 workers signed an open letter to the company’s management. The statement said:
For the leaders of Activision Blizzard,
We, the signatories, agree that the statements by Activision Blizzard, Inc. and its legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as Frances Townsend’s subsequent internal statement, are abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should represent. To put it clearly and unequivocally, our values as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership.
We believe these statements have undermined our continued quest for equality within and outside our industry. Categorizing allegations made as “distorted and, in many cases, false” creates a business atmosphere that discredits victims. It also casts doubt on the ability of our organizations to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions and promote a safe environment for victims to present themselves in the future. These statements make it clear that our leadership is not putting our values first. Immediate fixes are needed from the highest level of our organization.
Our company executives have claimed that actions will be taken to protect us, but in the face of legal action – and the troubling official responses that followed – we no longer trust that our leaders will put the safety of employees above their own interests. To claim that this is a “truly without merit and irresponsible process”, while we see so many current and former employees talking about their own experiences with regard to harassment and abuse, is simply unacceptable.
We request official statements that acknowledge the seriousness of these allegations and show compassion for victims of harassment and assault. We call on Frances Townsend to fulfill her word to step down as executive sponsor of ABK’s Women Employees Network as a result of the damaging nature of her statement. We call on the executive leadership team to work with us on new and significant efforts that ensure employees – as well as our community – have a safe place to speak and introduce themselves.
We support all of our friends, teammates and colleagues, as well as members of our dedicated community, who have suffered abuse or harassment of any kind. We won’t be silenced, we won’t stand by, and we won’t give up until the company we love is a workplace we can all feel proud to be a part of again. We will be the change.
The next day, the same group planned, and executed, a stoppage and a small march in front of Blizzard headquarters in Irvine, with an extensive letter of summons to co-workers, in favor of drastic, real and immediate changes. , in the face of allegations.
At first, employees did not plan to unionize and made it clear that the movement had no relationship with unions. In the US, unions are viewed with great fear by companies, usually to the detriment of employees, due to the culture and labor laws that exist there.
Not by chance, on July 29, Blizzard hired a law firm called WilmerHale — known for destroying and preventing the formation of labor unions.
To the Kotaku, an Activision Blizzard representative said WilmerHale would be responsible for “helping organizations strengthen their working environments by improving policies and procedures related to issues of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.” However, the agency’s history is not that simple.
As noted by Twitter user @JDespland, WilmerHale was the same company Amazon hired to stop the e-commerce giant’s employees from unionizing in February of this year.
More problems and a new process
But Blizzard’s problems didn’t stop there. As early as August 4, after Brack’s departure, Activision Blizzard was sued again.
This time, the action was filed by investors and shareholders who felt “economically impaired”. According to the document, they were “deceived” by the developer, which kept all employee behavior problems secret.
In addition, the developer failed to inform investors that it had been under investigation by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing for two years. These attitudes resulted not only in serious financial losses, but also in damage to the company’s image in the market, also affecting shareholders.
The lawsuit specifically cites Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, current CFO Dennis Durkin, and former CFO Spencer Neumann as executives who would be aware of the non-disclosure of information about the company. Investors are seeking compensation for amounts allegedly lost as a result of the scandal. Detail: the process was revealed on the same day that Blizzard had a financial results meeting with the same investors.
Already on August 6th, we learned that the Overwatch League, one of Blizzard’s main official competitions, it lost sponsorships and partnerships from major companies such as Coca-Cola, T-Mobile and State Farm.
This text will be constantly updated as long as the story doesn’t close and a resolution for Blizzard employees is presented. Little news pops up here and there about the case eventually. According to Engadget, only 20% of Blizzard’s workforce is represented by women, while leadership is mostly white men.
The complaints are not from today. O Bloomberg informs that similar situations occurred many years ago. In 2018, Mike Morhaime himself announced the resignation of Ben Kilgore, chief technology officer, after an issue involving a relationship Kilgore had developed with his assistant.
It remains to wait for more positions from Blizzard and measures to be taken, to see how the case will be resolved.
With information: CNET, Bloomberg, Engadget.