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Activision Blizzard Employees Hold Walkout Today Over Publisher’s Abysmal Response to Their Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Employees called the publisher's response "abhorrent and insulting."

 

Visitors play World of Warcraft at a video game trade fair

Today, Activision Blizzard employees are staging a walkout in protest of the publisher’s “abhorrent and insulting” response to the huge sexual harassment lawsuit they’re currently facing.

According to Polygon, more than 2,600 current and former employees have signed an open letter in support of the lawsuit. “In it, the employees said they don’t trust leadership to ‘hold abusers accountable for their actions,’ and that the official statements ‘damaged our ongoing quest for equality inside and outside of our industry.’ Now, employees will walk out of work — both virtually and at the Blizzard campus in Irvine, California — to protest executive response,” writes Nicole Carpenter.

In-person protesters will meet in front of the main gate at Blizzard Campus, while virtual ones will use the hashtag #ActiBlizzWalkout. There are also charities that can be donated to, as highlighted in this tweet:

The full statement of intent is below, courtesy of Polygon:

Given last week’s statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as the subsequent internal statement from Frances Townsend, and the many stories shared by current and former employees of Activision Blizzard since, we believe that our values as employees are not being accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership.

As current Activision Blizzard employees, we are holding a walkout to call on the executive leadership team to work with us on the following demands, in order to improve conditions for employees at the company, especially women, and in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups.

1. An end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, current and future. Arbitration clauses protect abusers and limit the ability of victims to seek restitution.

2. The adoption of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and promotion policies designed to improve representation among employees at all levels, agreed upon by employees in a company-wide Diversity, Equity & Inclusion organization. Current practices have led to women, in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups that are vulnerable to gender discrimination not being hired fairly for new roles when compared to men.

3. Publication of data on relative compensation (including equity grants and profit sharing), promotion rates, and salary ranges for employees of all genders and ethnicities at the company. Current practices have led to aforementioned groups not being paid or promoted fairly.

4. Empower a company-wide Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion task force to hire a third party to audit ABK’s reporting structure, HR department, and executive staff. It is imperative to identify how current systems have failed to prevent employee harassment, and to propose new solutions to address these issues.

The lawsuit was filed on July 22 by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). It’s a pretty horrifying read if I’m being honest, but what makes it extra disheartening is my lack of surprise when hearing about a toxic workplace environment for women—especially in gaming.

Polygon also expressed as much in their piece about the protest as workers across the video game industry have been encouraged to take part because this is NOT just an Activision Blizzard issue. We’re discussing Activision Blizzard at the moment, but we were just discussing Riot Games a couple of years ago.

That’s just one example, but really, women have been discussing the way they’ve been treated in the gaming industry for a long time.

There’s a very “shut up, woman, men are talking” vibe going on in that clip that speaks directly to the “pervasive frat boy workplace culture” that the lawsuit is accusing them of. Even if that clip is a decade old, the dismissive tone remains in the publisher’s response to the lawsuit filed against them.

At least, their initial one:

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 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.

And yes, I said initial response because, as of yesterday, we have another one I’d like to call “an attempt at damage control because our initial response did NOT go over well.” You can actually read the full statement here if you’d like, but the tweet already reads like a CEO who realizes that the shit has hit the fan.

Or that the stocks have plummeted.

Because, well, they have plummeted. “Shares of Activision Blizzard fell as much as 9% in Tuesday trades amid the ongoing fallout from a discrimination lawsuit filed against the company by California on Friday. Since the lawsuit was announced on Friday, Activision Blizzard has seen as much as $7.7 billion erased from its market value.”

The phrase “you’re just sorry that you got caught” feels appropriate right about now, but really, this wouldn’t be an issue if workspaces dared to treat women like valuable colleagues, or at the very least, listen when women speak up about work conditions they aren’t comfortable in—assuming a woman feels supported enough to be able to speak up at all.

When we say it’s hard to speak up, we mean it. We’re kind of conditioned to think that we have to “grin and bear it” when it comes to hostile work environments, especially if it’s a career we’ve worked hard to obtain. Then, by the time we do speak up, the response can be as dismissive as that 2010 clip, making our effort feel meaningless.

And that’s just from the work side of things, I haven’t even gotten into the comments from those on the outside who are just now hearing (or rather, just now acknowledging) how toxic gaming can be. There’s a “don’t harsh my vibe” nature with gaming because it has this fun/escapism/dream job slant to it, so folks turn their energy toward dismissing victims instead of realizing that victims very much entered this space for those fun reasons but had them shattered because of harassment.

On the one hand, I feel like I am seeing a lot more support than I’ve seen before in cases like this. On the other hand, I’m worried about how this will end. Are we really going to see changes being made? Or are we just going to be given lip service again to try to coddle us until the next time a publisher is trending over sexual harassment. In either case, I am glad to see that this is being addressed as an industry problem and not just an issue with one space in particular. Hopefully, that leads to necessary workplace changes so women can be allowed to appreciate gaming instead of having to constantly defend themselves within it.

#ActiBlizzWalkout.

(Image: Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images)

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Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)