Female employees of Activision Blizzard faced “constant sexual harassment” and discrimination based on their gender, according to a lawsuit filed against the company by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Some of the claims in the suit are disturbing enough to require a content warning. Activision Blizzard’s initial official response called the state’s descriptions “distorted, and in many cases false,” though one of Blizzard’s executives has called them “extremely troubling” and Activision Blizzard’s CEO later called the company’s first response “tone deaf.”
In response to Activision Blizzard’s denials, what’s estimated to be almost a third of the company’s employees signed an open letter calling for Activision Blizzard’s leaders to take accountability, with many planning a walkout on July 28th. Blizzard has also pledged to remove “inappropriate references” from its MMO World of Warcraft but hasn’t specified what those references are.
The case, along with employee’s response to it, could end up being an important moment for the video game industry, which has long struggled with the mistreatment of female and minority employees. You can check back here for the news on future developments in the case and employee actions.
Activision Blizzard CEO denies culture of harassment and blames unions for company problems
In 2021, the state of California sued Activision Blizzard, alleging that the video game publisher fostered a pervasive culture of harassment going back years. Details in the suit spoke of “cube crawls,” where male employees would get drunk and walk around the workplace subjecting female employees to inappropriate behavior. It alleged that male employees would pawn off responsibilities to their female co-workers, how women of color were passed up for opportunities given to less tenured workers, and how a senior World of Warcraft developer was so infamous for his harassment of women that his office was nicknamed the “Cosby suite.”Read Article >
But news of the suit was just the opening salvo in what would become a battery of reporting, documenting the kinds of harassment that went on at Activision Blizzard. Current and former employees shared their stories, including how a woman was demoted for allegedly reporting her harasser, how a nursing mother had her breast milk stolen from company refrigerators, and how one employee’s sexual harassment led to their death by suicide.
Activision Blizzard to pay $35 million SEC penalty
A Securities and Exchange Commission probe into Activision Blizzard has concluded with the company paying a $35 million penalty.Read Article >
At the heart of the probe were charges that Activision Blizzard did not have adequate procedures in place that allowed it to document employee workplace misconduct complaints. As a result of this inadequacy, Activision Blizzard could not, therefore, determine if the misconduct problems were severe enough to warrant shareholder disclosure. Additionally, the SEC found that wording in the company’s separation agreements was in violation of an SEC whistleblower protection rule, requiring former employees to notify the company if they received a request for information from the Commission or other investigative bodies like the NLRB.
Jan 3Microsoft has formally recognized the ZeniMax union.
QA workers at Microsoft’s ZeniMax Studios have voted to join the Communications Workers of America and, true to its word, Microsoft has formally recognized the organization. That means that the National Labor Relations Board won’t have to litigate the election, and the company and the union can start negotiating.
The approximately 300 workers in the union are looking to “put an end to sudden periods of crunch, unfair pay, and lack of growth opportunities within the company,” according to one employee quoted in the CWA’s press release.Quality Assurance Workers at Microsoft’s ZeniMax Studios Establish Company’s First Union
[Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA)]
Dec 27, 2022Workers at Activision Blizzard’s Proletariat studio are organizing.
Less than a month after a second group of Activision Blizzard workers voted to unionize, the Communications Workers of America announced the latest group filing for a union representation election.
The 57 workers in the unit include animators, designers, engineers, producers and quality assurance workers. Earlier this year, quality assurance workers at Activision’s Raven Software studio in Wisconsin and Blizzard Albany won their union elections, despite Activision Blizzard’s repeated attempts to prevent workers from voting.
“Everyone in the video game industry knows Activision Blizzard’s reputation for creating a hostile work environment, so earlier this year, when we heard that Blizzard was planning to acquire Proletariat, we started to discuss how we could protect the great culture we have created here,” said Dustin Yost, a Software Engineer at Proletariat. “By forming a union and negotiating a contract, we can make sure that we are able to continue doing our best work and create innovative experiences at the frontier of game development.”Proletariat Workers Become Third Group of Activision Blizzard Workers to Form Union with Communications Workers of America
[Communications Workers of America]
Dec 2, 2022
The US Army paused a Call of Duty League sponsorship after allegations against Activision came to light
The US Army halted a planned sponsorship with Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty esports league after allegations of Activision’s workplace culture of harassment and discrimination came to light last year, according to documents obtained by Vice.Read Article >
The Army wasn’t the only organization taking another look at its plans with Activision at the time; sponsors, including Coca-Cola and State Farm, were also reevaluating their support of the Overwatch League. The Verge reached out to sponsors listed on the Call of Duty League and the Overwatch League websites for comment in August 2021, and as observed by Kotaku reporter Ethan Gach, our inquiry to the Army appeared in the documents as part of a broader discussion about “the brand reputation issue.”
Dec 2, 2022
Another Blizzard QA department wins union vote
Workers at Blizzard’s Albany, New York offices — organized as GWA Albany under the Communications Workers of America (CWA) — have won their union vote, making them the publisher’s second union and the third overall union in the US video game industry. The vote was a majority decision — 14 “yes” votes out of a total possible 18 votes — marking an important step in Blizzard Albany’s unionization process that began in July of this year.Read Article >
“With this victory, we’re advocating for ourselves and each other because we care deeply about our work and the games we make,” said Amanda Deep, associate test analyst at Blizzard Albany, in a CWA press release celebrating the win. “Our colleagues at Raven inspired us when they announced the formation of the Game Workers Alliance / CWA. We can only hope that our win will continue to grow the labor movement at other video game studios across the country.”
Jul 21, 2022
Activision Blizzard employees walk out again, this time for reproductive protections
Activision Blizzard employees will participate in yet another walkout today, this time over concerns about employee safety in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Organized by A Better ABK, Activision Blizzard’s internal employee rights advocacy group, the walkout will take place at four of the publisher’s North American offices: California, Texas, Minnesota, and New York, where a new QA worker’s union was just organized.Read Article >
“We are calling for protection of several communities of marginalized workers,” tweeted A Better ABK on July 6th as they announced the walkout. “Employees are actively facing state legislation that is putting women, LGBTQ+ employees, and their families at risk, with other vulnerable groups on the horizon.”
Jul 19, 2022
Blizzard QA workers in Albany are organizing Activision’s second union
The QA department at Blizzard Albany, the studio formerly known as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2’s Vicarious Visions, has become the second QA department within Activision Blizzard to organize a union.Read Article >
The group, organized as GWA Albany, has around 20 members and formed a union to address issues like competitive and fair compensation, healthcare, and “establishing reasonable protocols to address demands of ‘crunch’ time.”
Jul 6, 2022
Blizzard will bring back BlizzCon in 2023
It’s been a few years since Blizzard has hosted an in-person version of BlizzCon, its fan convention, but it sounds like that’s going to change in 2023. The company, known for huge franchises like World of Warcraft and Diablo, is “committed to bringing back BlizzCon in 2023,” Blizzard boss Mike Ybarra told the Los Angeles Times.Read Article >
“We previously announced we’re taking a pause on BlizzCon while we reimagine it for the future but do want to return to a live event that enables us to celebrate the community,” Ybarra said. “We recently hired a new leader of BlizzCon, April McKee, who is hard at work on that plan. ... We are committed to bringing back BlizzCon in 2023.”
Jun 16, 2022
Activision Blizzard investigated Activision Blizzard and found Activision Blizzard didn’t do anything wrong
Amid all the news on Overwatch 2 and Diablo Immortal, Activision Blizzard has filed a document with the US Securities and Exchange Commission in which it affirms that, after an internal investigation, it concluded its own board did not fail to act when presented with allegations of harassment.Read Article >
“Contrary to many of the allegations, the board and its external advisors have determined that there is no evidence to suggest that Activision Blizzard senior executives ever intentionally ignored or attempted to downplay the instances of gender harassment that occurred and were reported,” Activision Blizzard wrote in the filing.
Jun 10, 2022
Activision Blizzard will begin negotiations with QA testers union at Raven Software
After Activision Blizzard refused to voluntarily recognize the union formed by QA testers at Raven Software — a subsidiary that works on the Call of Duty games — the testers went through the election process and voted to form a union last month. Now, Activision Blizzard’s current CEO Bobby Kotick told employees in a letter that the company recognizes the union and will “engage in good faith negotiations to enter into a collective bargaining agreement.”Read Article >
Getting here comes after news of layoffs late last year, followed by an employee walkout and a five-week strike. There was also the part where Activision Blizzard engaged in tactics that smelled of union busting, like suddenly converting other testers in the company to full-time jobs with benefits and pay bumps that the Raven testers didn’t get as well as spreading their roles out across the company, which is just one small part of employee backlash that has occurred within Activision Blizzard over the last year.
May 5, 2022
Blizzard hires a vice president of culture to fix its culture
California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Blizzard last July, saying it “created a culture of ‘constant sexual harassment’ and gender-based discrimination.” The revelations that followed through the rest of the year only served to confirm those assertions, and even as accusations of retaliation continue to roll in, a new set of leaders say they are committed to making changes.Read Article >
In January, Blizzard president Mike Ybarra wrote about “the work we are doing to rebuild your trust in Blizzard,” and included descriptions of several full-time leadership roles dedicated to changing the culture. It appears that two of the spots have been filled, as Activision Blizzard appointed Kristen Hines as its new chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer last month, and today Blizzard Entertainment announced Jessica Martinez as its first vice president, head of culture.
Apr 29, 2022
Activision Blizzard again accused of threatening employees for speaking out
Activision Blizzard is facing another complaint to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that it’s trying to keep employees from talking about their working conditions, despite their legally protected rights to do so. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) has filed an unfair labor charge against the company, alleging that it told workers “they could not discuss issues related to the sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit filed by state of California against the company,” according to a press release from the union.Read Article >
According to the complaint, an employee was threatened by a manager after posting an article about the lawsuit in Slack and discussing holding Activision Blizzard accountable with other co-workers. According to former Blizzard senior test analyst Jessica Gonzalez, who is cited in CWA’s press release, the company has a “pattern of retaliation against workers who speak out,” which has only gotten stronger as the company faces further legal challenges and complaints.
Apr 22, 2022
21 Raven Software QA employees will be allowed to have a union election
Twenty-one Raven Software QA employees have until May 20th to submit their ballots in a historic video game industry union vote. Today the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decreed that voting for the union would commence and that the voting unit would be composed of those 21 employees, against Activision Blizzard’s argument that the voting unit should be opened to all Raven employees.Read Article >
In a statement to The Verge, Activision Blizzard spokesperson Rich George said:
Apr 13, 2022
California governor has been interfering in Activision Blizzard lawsuit
The state of California’s case against Activision Blizzard just took another blow. A report in Bloomberg alleges that the office of California Governor Gavin Newsom sought to “interfere” in the lawsuit between the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing and Activision Blizzard for sexual harassment and discrimination. When the suit’s head counsel Janette Wipper tried to maintain the department’s autonomy, she was allegedly fired by Newsom, which prompted assistant chief counsel for the DFEH Melanie Proctor to resign in protest.Read Article >
According to the Bloomberg report, Proctor sent an email to staff saying, “The Office of the Governor repeatedly demanded advance notice of litigation strategy and of next steps in the litigation. As we continued to win in state court, this interference increased, mimicking the interests of Activision’s counsel.”
Apr 11, 2022
Activision Blizzard appoints new diversity officer
As Activision Blizzard continues to struggle under the weight of multiple PR disasters regarding sexual harassment and union busting, the company has appointed Kristen Hines as its new diversity, equity, and inclusion officer.Read Article >
“I’m excited to join a company that is prioritizing its commitment to DEI and making progress on the ambitious goals it has set for itself,” Hines said in a press release.
Apr 7, 2022
Activision Blizzard’s new full-time jobs come with a bit of union busting
Hours after announcing it would convert over 1,000 temporary and contract QA employees to full time and provide a minimum pay of $20 per hour, Activision Blizzard is stating that Raven Software QA workers will not be part of that deal. According to a report from Bloomberg, the QA testers at Raven Software who recently organized as the Game Workers Alliance will not be able to take advantage of the new pay minimum — something Activision Blizzard failed to mention upfront when it sent the initial news to media outlets. Excluding organizing employees from company-wide benefits seems to be Activision Blizzard’s latest move against the burgeoning labor movement going on at the company.Read Article >
In a statement to The Verge, Activision Blizzard spokesperson Jessica Taylor confirmed Bloomberg’s findings, saying:
Apr 1, 2022
Activision Blizzard confirms vaccine mandate is over, employees will walk out April 4th
Activision Blizzard is officially lifting its vaccine mandate for US corporate employees, and workers have announced they plan to walk out in protest. The company confirmed to The Verge that it has already ended the mandate, and A Better ABK, an organization of Activision Blizzard employees advocating for better working conditions, announced Friday that employees will walk out of work on April 4th at 1PM ET in protest.Read Article >
Jessica Gonzalez, a former Activision Blizzard employee and a founder of A Better ABK, originally revealed that the company was changing its vaccine policy on Twitter Thursday evening. In a series of screenshots, she shared the text of an email sent by Brian Bulatao, the company’s chief administrative officer. “Effective immediately, we are lifting our vaccine mandate for all US employees,” Bulatao says in the text shared by Gonzalez. Bulatao also discussed the company’s return-to-office policies, though acknowledged that they differed across the business. Bloomberg gaming journalist Jason Schreier reported on the email shortly after.
Mar 30, 2022
Judge approves Activision Blizzard’s $18 million harassment settlement
A judge has approved Activision Blizzard’s $18 million settlement with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two organizations had announced the settlement in September, but it is now being signed after California state regulators had tried to intervene.Read Article >
Activision Blizzard has been under intense scrutiny since California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a harassment lawsuit in July alleging the company fostered a culture of “constant sexual harassment.” As part of the consent decree, Activision Blizzard will establish an $18 million settlement fund which will be used to compensate victims of harassment and discrimination. Employees who have worked at the company between September 1st, 2016 and Tuesday, March 29th, can submit a claim for “for sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, or related retaliation.”
Mar 24, 2022
Activision Blizzard hit with another sexual harassment lawsuit
Another sexual harassment lawsuit has been filed against Activision Blizzard. The law firm of entertainment lawyer Lisa Bloom filed the suit on behalf of a plaintiff identified as “Jane Doe” against Activision Blizzard. Jane Doe alleges she has been subject to sexual harassment and discrimination while working at the company. The suit names Activision Blizzard, Blizzard Entertainment, three former Blizzard employees, two current employees, and “Does 1 through 25” as defendants.Read Article >
Content warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual harassment.
Mar 6, 2022
Activision Blizzard sued over claims sexual harassment contributed to employee’s death
The parents of an Activision Blizzard employee who died by suicide during a company retreat in 2017 are suing the company for wrongful death, according to a report by The Washington Post. Paul and Janet Moynihan, the parents of Kerri Moynihan, a 32-year-old finance manager at Activision Blizzard, allege sexual harassment was a “significant factor” contributing to her death. Investigators ruled Moynihan’s death a suicide after she was found dead in a hotel room at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa in April 2017.Read Article >
As noted by The Post, Moynihan was anonymously referenced in the lawsuit filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) last July, which sued Activision Blizzard for allegedly fostering a toxic culture of “constant sexual harassment.” The DFEH’s complaint claims her male co-workers passed around a photo of her vagina at a holiday party before her death. When the suit was filed, Activision Blizzard said the DFEH’s allegations were “distorted, and in many cases false.”
Jan 21, 2022
Blizzard boss details what the studio is doing to ‘rebuild your trust’
Blizzard Entertainment, the developer of huge franchises like Diablo and Overwatch, has been under intense scrutiny since California sued parent company Activision Blizzard last summer over allegedly fostering a culture of harassment and discrimination. In an attempt to assure employees and fans that the company is making positive changes, Blizzard boss Mike Ybarra published a blog post detailing what it is doing to “rebuild your trust.”Read Article >
At the top of the list is that executive and management teams will be measured “directly against culture improvement,” which means that their compensation will “depend on our overall success in creating a safe, inclusive, and creative work environment at Blizzard,” Ybarra says.
Jan 18, 2022
Read Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick’s email to employees about the Microsoft acquisition
Since Activision Blizzard was sued in July by the state of California for a culture of “constant sexual harassment,” among many other troubling issues, the company has been in a state of controversy. There were a pair of employee walkouts, and more than 1,500 employees signed a petition to remove CEO Bobby Kotick. An Activision Blizzard spokesperson recently told the Wall Street Journal that 37 people had exited the company, and 44 have been disciplined as part of its investigations.Read Article >
Kotick himself was the center of another WSJ report saying the publisher’s former CEO was not only aware of but participated in the company’s pervasive toxic culture. Employees called for Kotick to step down not long after the report was published, as the bosses of both PlayStation and Microsoft told their employees they were troubled by the report.
Jan 11, 2022
Lego delays Overwatch 2 set as company reevaluates relationship with Activision Blizzard
The name Overwatch 2 has become synonymous with delay. First reported by The Brick Fan, a Lego review site, the extremely popular toymaker is delaying the release of an Overwatch 2-themed set as the company reviews its relationship with Overwatch 2 publisher Activision Blizzard.Read Article >
In a statement to The Verge, Alice Carter, Lego’s senior manager of corporate brand communication, said:
Jan 8, 2022
California appeals decision regarding Activision Blizzard settlement
Activision Blizzard’s legal troubles just took another potential turn. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is appealing a judge’s decision that denies it from intervening in the $18 million settlement between the game developer and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), according to a document filed Friday.Read Article >
Activision Blizzard and the EEOC settled a lawsuit regarding the developer’s allegedly toxic culture in September, establishing a consent decree that included Activision Blizzard creating an $18 million settlement fund to compensate employees. This case is separate from the DFEH’s lawsuit against Activision Blizzard filed in July, which is ongoing.