Blizzard employees: Following a massive lawsuit filed against the firm by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) last week, further unsettling allegations about Activision Blizzard’s claimed a culture of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination have surfaced in recent days.
Because the details in some stories may be difficult to read, we’ve included a content warning for sexual harassment depictions.
The New York Times published a report on Thursday detailing incredibly troubling accounts of Activision Blizzard’s culture. Here’s one from a former customer support representative, Shay Stein:
Ms. Stein, who worked as a customer support representative at Activision from 2014 to 2017, assisting gamers with difficulties and malfunctions, claimed she was constantly underpaid compared to her ex-boyfriend, who joined the company at the same time and did the same work.
Ms. Stein claimed she once turned down drugs offered by her manager at a holiday party in 2014 or 2015, causing their relationship to worsen and her career to suffer. A manager messaged her on Facebook in 2016, implying that she was into “some strange stuff” and inquiring what kind of pornography she was seeing. She also claimed to have overheard male coworkers joking that some women were only employed because they performed sexual favors for their male bosses.
And Lisa Welch, a former vice president, told how an executive encouraged her to have sex with him “because she “deserved to have some fun” after her partner died weeks before.”
Emily Mitchell, a security researcher, approached Blizzard’s booth at the Black Hat cybersecurity conference in 2015 and was harassed by Blizzard’s representatives, according to a troubling account published by Vice on Friday.
She stated she inquired about the penetration testing position when she arrived at the table. A security audit is referred to as penetration testing, or pen testing, in the industry. Mitchell said she was wearing a t-shirt with the words “Penetration Expert” on the front created by the cybersecurity firm SecureState. One of the Blizzard staffers initially inquired if she was lost, another inquired whether she was attending the conference with her partner, and yet another inquired if she knew what pentesting was.
Mitchell told Waypoint, “One of them asked me when was the last time I was personally penetrated, if I liked being penetrated, and how often I was penetrated.” “I was enraged and humiliated, so I took the free merchandise and left.”
Mitchell went on to work as the COO of Sagitta HPC (now Terahash), and when Blizzard wanted to recruit the business in 2017, she told founder and CEO Jeremi Gosney about the incident, according to Vice. In March 2017, Gosney shared his redacted email response on Twitter, demanding that Blizzard meet a number of conditions if they were to collaborate, including a “50 percent misogyny tax” with the proceeds going to three women’s technology charities, as well as a letter of apology from Blizzard to Mitchell.
Blizzard was the redacted name in the email, according to Gosney.
IGN published a large piece on Friday showing the huge hurdles that women at Activision Blizzard have experienced. One terrible example: guys used to walk into breastfeeding rooms because they didn’t have locks at the time:
The room meant for breastfeeding didn’t have locks, according to a source who has since left Blizzard. “Men would enter the breastfeeding room in droves. The door could not be locked. They’d just look at me, and I’d have to yell at them to leave.” Breastfeeding rooms have subsequently been refurbished, according to IGN, with door locks installed.
The DFEH’s lawsuit claimed that working at the company was “similar to working in a frat house,” and IGN’s report expanded on that claim:
Such tales abound at Activision Blizzard, which is exacerbated by a “insane” drinking culture, according to a source. Because of their reputation, one woman said she “doggedly avoided” drinking activities on campus. Another remarked that in Blizzard’s main headquarters in Irvine in 2015, it was “far more sexual,” with women being subjected to improper touching in the breast area and elsewhere, “sometimes at the holiday party, sometimes not.”
According to IGN, Activision Blizzard has taken efforts to address the problematic drinking culture by instituting a two-drink limit at workplace parties, which was implemented in 2018. A company spokesman confirmed the publication that the restriction was implemented in 2018.
Employees at Activision Blizzard walked out in protest of the company’s handling of the lawsuit on Wednesday. Employees signed a letter criticizing the company’s initial response on Monday. A day later, before of the scheduled walkout, CEO Bobby Kotick attempted to address the claims and concerns in a public letter, calling Activision Blizzard’s response “tone-deaf.” Employees responded to Kotick’s letter shortly before the walkout, saying it “fails to address crucial components at the heart of employee concerns.”
The Overwatch League, which is owned by Activision Blizzard, took a small step forward on Friday by pledging to donate to “good causes.” However, the league took that move after the Washington Justice and Houston Outlaws of the Overwatch League stated on Thursday that they would be giving to RAINN and Big Sister Little Sister.