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Activision-Blizzard Lawsuit

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Updated Aug 25, 2021 at 05:54PM EDT by Brandon.

Added Jul 28, 2021 at 01:53PM EDT by Brandon.

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Overview

Blizzard Sexual Harassment Lawsuit refers to the legal charges brought on by the state of California against the video game developer and publishing company Activision-Blizzard after a two-year-long investigation into sexual harassment and work culture problems. The lawsuit and charges are similar to the allegations that hit Riot Games back in 2018. After news began emerging in late July 2021, it became a viral topic online across numerous sites and platforms, as well as the subject of memes.

Background

The state of California started its investigation in 2019, with many presuming it to be part of some investigation into gaming companies following the allegations that happened at Riot Games a year prior. On July 22nd, 2021, the news broke that California had officially started the process of suing Activision-Blizzard over the things found during the investigation. There was evidence that multiple females within the Blizzard organization were allegedly not being promoted despite long years of working, instead being passed over for less-qualified or less-tenured male colleagues, as well as things that are commonly associated with sexual harassment and anti-female sentiment being commonplace in the company.[1]

Current Blizzard CEO, J. Allen Brack, did an internal memo to staff on July 23rd, 2021, to help address the situation and try to calm the storm that was welling up. This letter to staff was not well received by many online, accusing the gesture as being a way to handwave away the issue and cover up the issue without actually solving the problem — especially when the letter that was sent internally around Activision was very different than the one Blizzard had.[2]


Similarly, Activision president Rob Kostich sent a memo to staff on July 22nd, 2021, trying to distance the company from the accusations. Response to this memo has been far less pronounced.[17]

Online Reaction

The report of the lawsuit itself was met with a mix of shock from some and a sense of vindication to others online. The ones who had worked inside the company and been affected or knew of what was going on inside it quickly took to discussing the news and their personal experiences at Blizzard, as seen in one of the tweets by a former employee with the online handle @Baemax on July 22nd.[3]


Currently, inside Blizzard's Hearthstone video game, a new expansion set is soon to be released. Because of this, notable Hearthstone streamers have been given exclusive access to some of the new cards that they then reveal on stream as a way to hype up the set. One of the notable Hearthstone streamers, Twitter[4] user @TrumpSC, originally decided to read out testimonials of Blizzard women in place of the card reveals, but then decided that it was too inappropriate for his stream, choosing to step away from card reveals and other Blizzard matters among the controversy.


One of the biggest online reactions to the lawsuit came from Asmongold who is an iconic World of Warcraft streamer and vocal critic of the last few years of Blizzard's game design choices.

On July 3rd, Asmongold started streaming his playthrough of FFXIV, which has convinced thousands of other players to also sign up and play the game, resulting in a mass exodus from WoW throughout July 2021. Since his recent excursion into FFXIV, he's been the recipient of much hate from Blizzard fans, including developers at the company who called him out and personally attacked him in public comments. On July 23rd, Asmongold tweeted[5] a video discussing the matter.


Notable Reactions

Since the initial report, there have been multiple reactions and updates as the details of the lawsuit are revealed and examined more closely. Looking back at the previous years of Blizzard history with the new information, many felt that there seemed to be a lot of things out of place, as well as previous Blizzard developers and current employees giving their insight into the lawsuit throughout late July 2021.

Blizzard Initial Response

In the day of the lawsuit, Activision put out a statement attacking the DEFH, accusing them of being unprofessional and their report of being outdated and false(shown below).[16]

We value diversity and strive to foster a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone. There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind. We take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue.

The 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 them with extensive data and ample documentation, but they refused to inform us what issues they perceived. They were required by law to adequately investigate and to have good faith discussions with us to better understand and to resolve any claims or concerns before going to litigation, but they failed to do so. Instead, they rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court. 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. While we find this behavior to be disgraceful and unprofessional, it is unfortunately an example of how they have conducted themselves throughout the course of their investigation. It is this type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.

The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today. 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. We’ve updated our Code of Conduct to emphasize a strict non-retaliation focus, amplified internal programs and channels for employees to report violations, including the “ASK List” with a confidential integrity hotline, and introduced an Employee Relations team dedicated to investigating employee concerns. We have strengthened our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and combined our Employee Networks at a global level, to provide additional support. Employees must also undergo regular anti-harassment training and have done so for many years.

We put tremendous effort in creating fair and rewarding 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 variety of proactive steps to ensure that pay is driven by non-discriminatory factors. For example, we reward and compensate employees based on their performance, and we conduct extensive anti-discrimination trainings 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 fosters a supportive, diverse, and inclusive workplace for our people, and we are committed to continuing this effort in the years to come. It is a shame that the DFEH did not want to engage with us on what they thought they were seeing in their investigation.

The Alex Afrasiabi Issue

Alex Afrasiabi was named in multiple documents as being both a figurehead of the company, with over 13 direct references in WoW himself, and one of the main perpetrators of various sexual harassment actions. Multiple documents and reports indicate that not only did other senior-level developers and staff members allegedly know of his intentions and actions, but that they would joke about it with each other instead of actively going against it. Calls to remove all his in-game references, get him blacklisted from the community and possibly pursue legal action were discussed among many comment sections that hosted the news.[6]


Former Employees Speak Out

Around 2017, a turning point started at Blizzard, with many of the old guard retiring or otherwise leaving for other companies, and new hires taking over the reins. With the news of the lawsuit, these ex-Blizzard lead developers, chief officers and creative leads were asked for comment about what they saw at Blizzard and how to do better in the future. Among those who gave their opinions were Mike Morhaime, who said in a statement that he feels he failed the women of Blizzard. Also chiming in was Greg Street, known as Ghostcrawler, an infamous developer who was known in the community for his hijinks and forum posts.[7][8]


Blizzard Employee Signed Letter

On July 26th, hundreds of Blizzard employees signed an open letter decrying Blizzard Entertainment and saying that they do not feel the response from the upper management was good enough, with a planned strike and walkout taking place on June 28th. The total number of signatures on the letter eclipsed 2,000 as videos and tweets from previous BlizzCon's being unearthed that showed sexist remarks and jokes being made on the public stage in front of thousands of physical and virtual attendees.[8][9]


Blizzard Employee Walkout

On July 27th, 2021 it was announced that numerous Blizzard employees would stage a walkout. The walkout was not only supposed to be a physical one but a digital one as well. The walkout was met with solidarity online as thousands tweeted out support and helpful infographics about what games are connected to Activision-Blizzard and what charities that support women in the industry are good to donate to.[10][11][12]


Bobby Kotick's Response

Also on the 27th, Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick made an official statement on the lawsuit, retracting previous responses and calling them "tone deaf"[18]. The statement goes as follows:

This has been a difficult and upsetting week.

I want to recognize and thank all those who have come forward in the past and in recent days. I so appreciate your courage. Every voice matters – and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future.

Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, 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. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.

Many of you have told us that active outreach comes from caring so deeply for the Company. That so many people have reached out and shared thoughts, suggestions, and highlighted opportunities for improvement is a powerful reflection of how you care for our communities of colleagues and players – and for each other. Ensuring that we have a safe and welcoming work environment is my highest priority. The leadership team has heard you loud and clear.

We are taking swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment. There is no place anywhere at our Company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind.

We will do everything possible to make sure that together, we improve and build the kind of inclusive workplace that is essential to foster creativity and inspiration.

I have asked the law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of our policies and procedures to ensure that we have and maintain best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace. This work will begin immediately. The WilmerHale team will be led by Stephanie Avakian, who is a member of the management team at WilmerHale and was most recently the Director of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement.

We encourage anyone with an experience you believe violates our policies or in any way made you uncomfortable in the workplace to use any of our many existing channels for reporting or to reach out to Stephanie. She and her team at WilmerHale will be available to speak with you on a confidential basis and can be reached at ATVI@wilmerhale.com or 202-247-2725. Your outreach will be kept confidential. Of course, NO retaliation will be tolerated.

We are committed to long-lasting change. Effective immediately, we will be taking the following actions:

1. Employee Support. We will continue to investigate each and every claim and will not hesitate to take decisive action. To strengthen our capabilities in this area we are adding additional senior staff and other resources to both the Compliance team and the Employee Relations team.

2. Listening Sessions. We know many of you have inspired ideas on how to improve our culture. We will be creating safe spaces, moderated by third parties, for you to speak out and share areas for improvement.

3. Personnel Changes. We are immediately evaluating managers and leaders across the Company. Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated.

4. Hiring Practices. Earlier this year I sent an email requiring all hiring managers to ensure they have diverse candidate slates for all open positions. We will be adding compliance resources to ensure that our hiring managers are in fact adhering to this directive.

In-game Changes. We have heard the input from employee and player communities that some of our in-game content is inappropriate. We are removing that content.
Your well-being remains my priority and I will spare no company resource ensuring that our company has the most welcoming, comfortable, and safe culture possible.

You have my unwavering commitment that we will improve our company together, and we will be the most inspiring, inclusive entertainment company in the world.

Yours sincerely,

Bobby

The Cosby Suite

The same day as the walkout, new evidence was allegedly leaked that cast doubt into the words of the former Blizzard employees who decried the allegations and said that change must be made. Though there is still some unknown info about how the "Cosby Suite" first came about, though the direct comparison to Bill Cosby's rape accusations is debated, what has most people up in arms about the situation is the amount of upper leadership that was supposedly a part of it, as well as the language and problematic intent used when talking about it.

The Cosby Suite was a suite booked for Blizzcon where, allegedly, various directors and game designers would have copious amounts of alcohol on standby so they could bring female fans of their games up to the suite to get intoxicated and hook up. This is spelled out in the group chat and accompanying picture that was uncovered and subsequently tweeted en masse for visibility.[13][14][15]


Fallout

On August 3rd, 2021, Blizzard and J. Allen Brack announced that Brack would be stepping down from his role as President of Blizzard, effective immediately, and that Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra would take over as joint leaders of the company. While the statement[19] made no explicit mention of the ongoing lawsuit, it did say:

Both leaders are deeply committed to all of our employees; to the work ahead to ensure Blizzard is the safest, most welcoming workplace possible for women, and people of any gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or background; to upholding and reinforcing our values; and to rebuilding your trust. With their many years of industry experience and deep commitment to integrity and inclusivity, Jen and Mike will lead Blizzard with care, compassion, and a dedication to excellence. You’ll hear more from Jen and Mike soon.

The Evidence Shredding

On August 25th, 2021, it was announced that the lawsuit was being amended. This amendment to the lawsuit would have it include abuse done against temporary workers of Activision-Blizzard, as well as include additional allegations that the Human Resources Department of Blizzard was knowingly and actively shredding and otherwise destroying evidence of abuse that was collected over the years at the company.



Search Interest

External References

[1] Twitter – JasonSchrier

[2] Twitter – JasonSchrier

[3] Twitter – Baemax

[4] Twitter – TrumpSC

[5] Twitter – AsmonGold

[6] Twitter – Repzilla

[7] Twitter – WoWhead

[8] Twitter – GhostCrawler

[9] Twitter – IGN

[10] Twitter – Rimeshard

[11] Twitter – SideQuestress

[12] Twitter – Mike Morhaime

[13] Twitter – WoWhead

[14] Twitter – Scapes

[15] Twitter – Gene Park

[16] Kotaku – Activision Blizzard Sued By California Over Widespread Harassment Of Women

[17] Twitter – Nicole Carpenter

[18] Activision – Bobby Kotick's Response

[19] Blizzard – NEW LEADERSHIP AT BLIZZARD

Recent Videos 13 total

Recent Images 74 total


Top Comments

Sunsoft Bass
Sunsoft Bass

Typical Blizzard, they are going to remove the sexy female characters, the sexual jokes and the references to former employees, and also remove the things that were OK around 2004 but are considered racist and offensive now, but they aren't actually going to solve the problem of harassment and rape for the female workers, and the problem of abuse and overwork for all workers, Blizzard once again being nice, friendly and beautiful on the outside, but still rotten on the inside.

+72

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