Activision Blizzard has definitely seen better days. With everything going on, it's hard to keep track of what's what and who's who. So without further ado, here's everything you need to know about the Activision Blizzard lawsuit.
Timeline of the Activision Blizzard Discrimination Lawsuit
It's fairly well-known by now what really goes on behind Activision Blizzard's closed doors. The company allegedly exhibited a “frat boy” culture in which female employees were subjected to sexual harassment, unequal pay, and much more horrible things.
Because of this, Activision Blizzard and its current and former employees are in the middle of dealing with the fallout of the lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Since the lawsuit was filed on July 20, severe actions have been taken. Sources have spoken their unbelievable stories, Blizzard's CEO J. Allen Brack has stepped down, and much more.
It's quite a lot of information to process and jot down. So we've made a timeline to keep you up-to-date with everything that's been going on.
July 20, 2021 – Activision Blizzard sued by California over widespread discrimination and sexual harassment
After two years of investigation by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the state filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. They accused the company of fostering a “frat boy” culture in which female employees were subjected to unequal pay and sexual harassment.
The lawsuit claimed that female employees of all levels of employment were heavily impacted by this. The state also alleged that the higher-ups at Blizzard failed to address and handle any of these problematic issues or prevent them from happening within the workplace.
One particular incident cited in the lawsuit involves one of their female employees. An employee who was already subjected to intense sexual harassment at the company. She committed suicide during a work trip with a male supervisor who allegedly brought inappropriate, sexual items with him on their trip.
July 21, 2021 – Activision Blizzard Released their Official Statement in Response to the Lawsuit
A day after the lawsuit made headlines, Activision Blizzard released their highly criticized official statement in response. They claim that the “DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” It claimed it has been “extremely cooperative with the DFEH throughout their investigation,” but that it “refused to inform us what issues they perceived.”
Activision Blizzard then accused them of rushing to file an inaccurate complaint and failing to have “good faith discussions with us to better understand and to resolve any claims or concerns before going to litigation.”
“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,” Activision Blizzard wrote. “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 company continued on to say that it has taken many steps to strengthen its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and combined its Employee Networks at a global level to provide additional support.
Because of their “abhorrent and insulting” response, over 2,000 former and current Activision Blizzard employees signed an internal letter criticizing the company’s public statement regarding the lawsuit. The letter also said that these employees “no longer trust” that the company’s leaders “will place employee safety above their own interests.”
July 22, 2021 – Blizzard President J. Allen Brack Emails the Staff to Address the Lawsuit
Blizzard president J. Allen Brack emailed his staff at the company to address the lawsuit. He called the reported behavior “completely unacceptable” and promises to discuss issues with their employees to help move the company forward.
According to Bloomberg, his letter does not address any of the specifics of the legal case. However, Brack does talk about “iterating on our culture,” and a “commitment to continuous improvement.” He also said, “I disdain ‘bro culture,’ and have spent my career fighting against it.”
July 22, 2021 – Activision Blizzard Executive and Former Homeland Security Advisor to George W. Bush Frances Townsend Sends Internal Email
Activision Blizzard executive and former Homeland Security Advisor to George W. Bush Frances Townsend sent a different type of letter to the internal Blizzard staff which sounded far from the one sent by J. Allen Brack.
She claimed the lawsuit “presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories – some from more than a decade ago.” She continued to talk about the supposed steps Blizzard has taken to ensure it is a safe and inclusive company and says that “egregious actions of others” and this “truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit” shouldn’t “damage our culture of respect and equal opportunity for all employees.”
According to IGN, Townsend’s letter was one of the key factors in spurring Activision Blizzard employees to action.
“That’s when employees really began to feel like the narrative was not heading in a direction that was reflective of our beliefs and of the demands [for] the changes that we want to see,” they said. “So in an act of solidarity with the victims, as well as to create this call to action, a walkout was formed. Once the logistics were all confirmed, that's when we publicized it to the rest of the company.”
July 24, 2021 – Former Blizzard Executives Apologise for Failing Employees
Blizzard co-founder and ex-CEO Mike Morhaime shared his thoughts on the allegations against his former company and said, “to the Blizzard women who experienced any of these things, I am extremely sorry that I failed you.” He continued by saying that “it feels like everything I thought I stood for has been washed away.”
Former senior VP of story and franchise development Chris Metzen also shared his thoughts on Twitter, saying, “I offer my very deepest apologies for the part I played in a culture that fostered harassment, inequality, and indifference. There is no excuse.”
July 25, 2021 – Senior System Designer on World of Warcraft Says ‘Almost No Work is Being Done on WoW’ Following the Lawsuit
World of Warcraft's Senior System Designer Jeff Hamilton shared his thoughts on Twitter about the “terrible” statement by Activision Blizzard in response to the lawsuit. He believes that all these allegations need to be “taken seriously and in good faith” and that those found guilty “deserve both removal from the company and criminal investigation.”
He also confirmed that “almost no work is being done on World of Warcraft right now while this obscenity plays out. And that benefits nobody – not the players, not the developers, not the shareholders. Activision’s response to this is currently taking a group of world-class developers and making them so mad and traumatized they’re rendered unable to keep making a great game.”
July 27, 2021 – World of Warcraft Will Remove Inappropriate References from WoW and WoW Classic
The World of Warcraft team made their first official statement after the lawsuit was made public. They stated that they will remove inappropriate references from both WoW and WoW Classic.
While the team didn’t go into specifics, WoW does have references to some developers and team members who were named in the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit, including Alex Afrasiabi.
July 27, 2021 – Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick Issues a Response, Calling the Company’s Initial Statement ‘Tone Deaf’
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick released a statement that called out the company’s initial statement “tone-deaf,” and he promised “swift action” and said there’s no place anywhere for “discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind.”
As reported by Kotaku, Activision Blizzard would go on to retain the services of the law firm WilmerHale to help “review policies and procedures to help promote a more respectful and inclusive workplace.”
On July 28, Activision Blizzard employees issued a response to Kotick’s message, stating that while they are pleased that the tone of leadership communications has changed, Kotick failed to address multiple concerns expressed by the company.
It didn’t address any of the demands from those involved in the walkout and the employees said that they expect “a prompt response and a commitment to action from leadership.”
July 27-28, 2021 – Activision Blizzard Employees Stage a Walkout and List Demands
Activision Blizzard employees announced on July 27 that they would be staging a walkout on July 28. This is to protest the response the company’s leadership made to the lawsuit that highlighted harassment, inequality, and more within the company.
The employees then revealed their list of demands, which are as follows:
- 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 the 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.
Blizzard confirmed it would offer paid time off for those employees who wanted to be a part of the walkout.
July 28, 2021 – Ubisoft Employees Sign Letter Supporting Activision Blizzard Walkout, Demand Better From Ubisoft
Almost 500 Ubisoft employees signed an open letter offering support to Activision Blizzard as they were performing a walkout. The letter also called out Ubisoft’s handling of last year’s sexual misconduct revelations.
“[W]e have seen nothing more than a year of kind words, empty promises and an inability or unwillingness to remove known offenders,” the letter states. “We no longer trust your commitment to address these issues at their core. You need to do more.”
July 29, 2021 – Activision Blizzard Confirms That Former Senior Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi Was Fired in 2020
Activision Blizzard confirmed that its former Blizzard senior creative director Alex Afrasiabi, who was named in the DFEH lawsuit, was fired in 2020 for “misconduct in his treatment of other employees.”
Afrasabi was apparently involved in the so-called “Cosby Suite”. A hotel room was reportedly used for networking by Blizzard employees. A Blizzard spokesperson told Kotaku “An employee brought these 2013 events to our attention in June 2020. We immediately conducted our own investigation and took corrective action. At the time of the report, we had already conducted a separate investigation of Alex Afrasiabi and terminated him for his misconduct in his treatment of other employees.”
This “Cosby Suite” was the name given to Afrasiabi’s BlizzCon 2013 hotel room and was a “meeting place where many, including Afrasiabi, would pose with an actual portrait of Bill Cosby while smiling.”
July 31, 2021 – Security Researcher Reveals Blizzard Recruiters Harassed Her at a Job Fair
Waypoint reported about Security Researcher Emily Mitchell who shared a story that showed how systemic these issues at Activision Blizzard are. In August of 2015, Mitchell was simply looking for a job when she approached the Blizzard booth. She wanted to see what positions were available and while she was hoping for a new opportunity, she was instead harassed.
Mitchell asked about a penetration testing (or pentesting) position, which is an industry term for a security audit. One of the Blizzard employees asked her if she was lost, while another one asked if she was at the conference with her boyfriend. The third asked if she even knew what pentesting was.
“One of them asked me when was the last time I was personally penetrated, if I liked being penetrated, and how often I got penetrated,” Mitchell told Waypoint. “I was furious and felt humiliated so I took the free swag and left.”
August 3, 2021 – J. Allen Brack leaves Blizzard with Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra step in as co-leaders
Activision Blizzard COO Daniel Alegre announced that Blizzard President J. Allen Brack will be stepping down from the company in an email sent to investors.
Following the Activision Blizzard lawsuit, Brack confirmed he was “leaving the company to pursue new opportunities.”
Brack will then be replaced by “co-leader” Jen ONeal and Mike Ybarra. Jen Oneal has been working in Activision Blizzard for 18 years, mainly dealing with the Diablo and Overwatch franchises. Meanwhile, Mike Ybarra has been working in games for 20 years, 7 of them with Microsoft’s Xbox Division. He is also a veteran of the Battle.net team.
August 3, 2021 – Activision Blizzard Employees Form Coalition, Reject CEO's Choice of Law Firm
Workers from across multiple Activision Blizzard development studios sent a joint letter to Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick and his executive leadership team that highly criticizes the company's decision to hire law firm WilmerHale.
This group, calls itself the ABK Workers Alliance. They expressed their frustrations with the hiring of the law firm that is currently working on helping Amazon prevent its employees from unionizing, as well as the fact that Kotick did not “meaningfully address” workers' demands following last week's walkout.
The ABK Workers Alliance strongly disapproves of the hiring of WilmerHale as it claims there is a conflicting interest due to its “pre-existing relationships with Activision Blizzard and its executives,” WilmerHale's history of “discouraging workers' rights and collective actions,” and Stephanie Avakians's history of “protecting the wealthy and powerful.”
The letter also calls on Kotick and the executive leadership to address the list of their demands. The ABK Workers Alliance outlined the steps they are taking internally to improve their workplace, including worker-to-worker mentorships, open listening sessions, and community meetings.
August 3, 2021 – Activision Blizzard Holds Earnings Call, Lawsuit Broadly Avoided
Following Brack's departure and the new employee coalition, Activision Blizzard held a scheduled earnings call. It was opened by CEO Bobby Kotick, who reiterated most of the points made in his previous statement. He particularly focused on removing employees who were found to have contributed to the toxic workplace environment. “Our work environment – everywhere we operate – will not permit discrimination, harassment or unequal treatment,” Kotick stated. “We will be the company that sets the example for this in our industry. While we’ve taken many steps towards this objective already, today we are taking even more.”
Later in the call, newly appointed Blizzard co-leader Jen Oneal gave her first statement. However, she broadly avoided answering a question related to rebuilding employee morale in the wake of the allegations and lawsuit. In fact, only two questions from investors focused on the recent controversies. However, per Polygon, an investor has filed a class action against the company for failing to disclose the first lawsuit.
August 7, 2021 – Embattled Activision Blizzard Executive Steps Down as Women's Network Sponsor
Activision Blizzard’s president for corporate affairs Frances Townsend stepped down as an executive sponsor of the ABK Women’s Network. The corporate executive has been criticized by employees within the company following the lawsuit against Activision Blizzard was first publicized. However, Townsend is still employed by Activision Blizzard.
In a statement acquired by The Washington Post’s Shannon Liao, Townsend “believes in doing what’s right for the Network, and will continue to support and advance the work of the Network as best she can.”
So far these are the biggest problems Activision Blizzard is fighting right now. Here's hoping the employees finally get the justice they deserve and that these types of situations will soon be a thing of the past. This is a big step for the gaming community. So let's all be there for each other when the time comes.
August 27, 2021 – Activision Blizzard Gets Accused of Destroying Evidence
According to Axios, the DFEH stated that Activision Blizzard engaged in activity that made it non-compliant with the ongoing investigation. The DFEH called out the company’s human resource personnel for tearing up documents, which it says violates Activision Blizzard’s legal obligations to retain pertinent information. Yikes.
The department also brought up the hiring of law firm WilmerHale and said requiring employees to speak to the company first before going to the DFEH. This “directly interferes” with the agency’s ability to “investigate, prosecute, and remedy workplace discrimination and harassment violations on behalf of employees and contingent or temporary workers.”
When asked for a comment about destroying evidence, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said the claims were false and that the company only “took appropriate steps” to retain relevant information. “With regards to claims that we have destroyed information by shredding documents, those claims are not true. We took appropriate steps to preserve information relevant to the DFEH investigation,” an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said over email.
August 27, 2021 – Activision Blizzard and Overwatch Renames McCree following the Lawsuit
In a statement on Overwatch's official Twitter, the developers announced that they will change McCree's name to “something that better represents what Overwatch stands for.” The developers also announced that in-game characters will no longer be named after real employees after everything that happened.
McCree's name was taken directly from Activision Blizzard developer Jesse McCree. Unfortunately, McCree was one of three senior Blizzard employees no longer working at the company following California's lawsuit against Blizzard for widespread gender discrimination amongst other things. Activision Blizzard still hasn't confirmed whether McCree left the company or was fired.