More disturbing allegations of Activision Blizzard’s reported culture of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination have been reported in recent days, following a huge lawsuit filed against the company by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) last week.
Details in these stories may be challenging to read, so we are prefacing them with a content warning for descriptions of sexual harassment.
On Thursday, The New York Times posted a story of extremely distressing accounts of Activision Blizzard’s culture. Here is one from Shay Stein, a former customer service employee:
Ms. Stein, 28, who worked at Activision from 2014 to 2017 in a customer service role, helping gamers with problems and glitches, said she had consistently been paid less than her ex-boyfriend, who joined the company at the same time she did and performed the same work.
Ms. Stein said she had once declined drugs that her manager offered at a holiday party in 2014 or 2015, which soured their relationship and hampered her career. In 2016, a manager messaged her on Facebook, suggesting she must be into “some freaky stuff” and asking what type of pornography she watched. She said she had also overheard male colleagues joking that some women had their jobs only because they performed sexual favors for male superiors.
And former vice president Lisa Welch shared an account of how an exec asked her to have sex with him “because she ‘deserved to have some fun’ after her boyfriend had died weeks earlier.”
Vice published a disturbing report on Friday about the story of Emily Mitchell, a security researcher, who approached Blizzard’s booth at the Black Hat cybersecurity conference in 2015 and was harassed by Blizzard’s representatives.
When she got to the table, she said she asked about the penetration testing position. Penetration testing, or pentesting, is the industry term for a security audit. Mitchell said she was wearing a t-shirt made by cybersecurity company SecureState, which had “Penetration Expert” on the front. One of the Blizzard employees first asked if she was lost, another one asked if she was at the conference with her boyfriend, and another one 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.”
Mitchell would later work as the COO at a company called Sagitta HPC (now Terahash), and when Blizzard wanted to hire the company in 2017, she reported the incident to founder and CEO Jeremi Gosney, according to Vice. Gosney posted his redacted email reply on Twitter in March 2017, demanding that Blizzard fulfill several conditions if they were to work together, including a “50 percent misogyny tax” where the proceeds would be donated to three charities supporting women in technology, and that Blizzard send a letter of apology to Mitchell.
Gosney confirmed Friday that the redacted name in the email was Blizzard.
IGN posted a big feature Friday detailing enormous challenges women have faced at Activision Blizzard. One harrowing example: men would walk into breastfeeding rooms, because at one point they didn’t have locks:
A source who has since departed Blizzard talked about how the room designated for breastfeeding didn’t have locks. “Men would walk into the breastfeeding room. There was no way to lock the door. They would just stare and I would have to scream at them to leave.” IGN understands that breastfeeding rooms have since been updated, with locks added to doors.
IGN’s article also added further detail to the allegation in the DFEH’s lawsuit that working at the company was “akin to working in a frat house:”
Such stories abound at Activision Blizzard, compounded by a drinking culture that until recently was “insane,” a source said. One woman told me she “doggedly avoided” drinking events on campus because of their reputation. Another talked about how it was “much more sexual” in Blizzard’s main office in Irvine circa 2015, with women being subjected to inappropriate touching in the chest area and elsewhere, “sometimes at the holiday party, sometimes not.”
Activision Blizzard has taken steps to attempt to address the problematic drinking culture by introducing a two drink maximum at company events, according to IGN, a policy that was put in place in 2018, a company spokesperson told the publication.
On Wednesday, Activision Blizzard employees walked out in protest of the company’s handling of the lawsuit. Employees had signed a letter Monday slamming the company’s initial response. A day later, CEO Bobby Kotick attempted to address the allegations and concerns ahead of the planned walkout, calling Activision Blizzard’s response “tone deaf” in a public letter. Just before the walkout, employees responded to Kotick’s letter in turn, saying that it “fails to address critical elements at the heart of employee concerns.”
In a small positive step, the Overwatch League, which is owned by Activision Blizzard, committed Friday to donating to “worthy causes.” But the league took that step after Overwatch League teams the Washington Justice and the Houston Outlaws jointly announced Thursday they would be donating to RAINN and Big Sister Little Sister.