Parties and a working atmosphere like in the movie Wolf of Wallstreet: What sounds compelling to one or another ended in a sexism scandal and a lawsuit for Activision Blizzard. The clumsy reaction of Blizzard’s management only poured more gas on the fire.
What happened in short? Activision Blizzard is still facing the ongoing sexism debate: Female employees accuse the gaming giant of creating a breeding ground for sexism and a toxic work climate. The California DFEH investigated and is now suing.
Why Blizzard is facing harsh criticism now
The accusations: The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH for short) recently filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. The reasons are accusations of many female employees, who accuse Blizzard of the following:
- Sexual harassment is part of everyday life at Blizzard.
- Unfair wages compared to male colleagues.
- If someone complains, those affected must fear dismissal.
- The management favors the situation by only giving verbal warnings to perpetrators, but not taking any consequences.
After two years of investigation, the DFEH was able to confirm this and much more: Among other things, some employees were said to be snorting coke in the restrooms, showing up to work with residual alcohol, and being part of a Bill Cosby chat group. In this, members chatted about “bringing hot chicks to the Coz.” This refers to ex-senior creative Alex Afrasiabi’s hotel room, which was commonly known as the “Cosby Suite” among colleagues. Those in charge responded poorly to the scandal. There is a lack of unity on how best to position themselves.
This is how Blizzard deals with the scandal internally & externally differently
This is how Blizzard presents itself to the outside world: An initial statement by Blizzard CEO Allen Brack caused even more controversy. In it, he insisted that some of the accusations date back more than a decade and others were taken completely out of context. He says much has improved in recent years thanks to the cooperation between Blizzard and the DFEH. However, this cooperation has not been entirely easy, Brack complains. During the cooperation, the authority did not want to give any information to Blizzard about ongoing problems known to them.
The words “irresponsible behavior by bureaucrats of unsound mind,” with which Brack describes the California authority and their actions in his first statement, remain memorable.
Internally, a different face: Activision Blizzard’s leadership appears tough and unyielding in their public response to the lawsuit. But internally, they show themselves to be understanding and willing to take immediate action. At least that’s what an internal email published by well-known author, industry insider, and journalist Jason Schreier shows. In it, at least Allen Brack stands by his employees:
Personally, I have a lot of emotions that have been running high since yesterday, and I know you do too. The accusations and pain from former and active employees are very disturbing. […]
It is unacceptable for anyone in the company to be harassed or discriminated.
Everyone should feel comfortable, whether at work, Blizzcon, or the home office.
It shows courage to report such behavior, and all allegations will be investigated by internal and (if necessary) external investigators.
We take these allegations very seriously. You can bring them forward without fear of retaliation.
Let’s recall again the Cosby Suite and Alex Afrasiabi: he had left Blizzard last year (2020) of his own free will — didn’t he? Not at all as it seems, because Afrasiabi was fired for severe sexual harassment, at least that’s what Allen Brack now claims.
Not on the same page: not all Blizzard executives want to sit down at the same table with their employees. Chief Compliance Officer Fran Townsend claims in her internal email that the DFEH is putting a completely false and outdated image of Activision Blizzard out there. Her career path, she says, was fair, and she was treated with respect — even by male colleagues. We look in vain for insight or compassion for victims of sexual harassment or unfair treatment in Ms. Townsend’s email.