The game maker Activision Blizzard, which is behind video game franchises like Call of Duty, Candy Crush and World of Warcraft has agreed to a large settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) over sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination and retaliatory termination. The game maker has agreed to pay $18 million to compensate eligible employees.
In its federal lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, the EEOC claimed that the company failed to address a culture of sexual harassment and gender inequality, including pregnancy discrimination. When workers complained about the discrimination, the company fired them.
The lawsuit followed a three year-long investigation by the EEOC. However, other regulators have also been investigating Activision Blizzard for similar issues. For example, California’s civil rights agency has alleged that Activision Blizzard allowed a “frat boy” culture.
Additionally, women at Activision Blizzard were paid less than their male counterparts and even assigned to lower-level jobs, the regulator said. Sexual harassment was also common and included things like rape jokes, comments about female employees’ bodies and groping. The agency sued Activision Blizzard in July, prompting employees to stage a walkout in protest of the company’s sexist culture.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is also investigating harassment and discrimination at Activision Blizzard. Moreover, an August shareholder lawsuit against the company argued that Activision Blizzard had failed to disclose the California investigation or the fact that the company has workplace culture issues that could lead to liability.
In September, the union Communications Workers of America filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Activision Blizzard is violating federal labor law. It claims that managers threatened employees who discussed wages, hours or working conditions.
Company agrees to strengthen its anti-harassment policies and compliance
In addition to paying out $18 million to the affected employees, Activision Blizzard has also agreed to up its anti-harassment and anti-discrimination game. According to NPR, the company is working to create training programs and software tools to improve workplace policies and practices at other tech employers.
“There is no place anywhere at our company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind,” said Activision Blizzard’s CEO in a statement, “and I am grateful to the employees who bravely shared their experiences.”
However, in its response to the EEOC lawsuit, the company denied any wrongdoing.
Many companies in the high tech industry have a reputation for “frat boy” culture. This will only change with a combination of compliance by the companies, enforcement by regulators and vigorous litigation by those experiencing discrimination and harassment.
If you have suffered sexual harassment or discrimination at your job, talk to an experienced employment law attorney before you take any action at work.