One of the world’s biggest video game companies is reeling after a state discrimination and sexual harassment suit kicked off a firestorm of controversy within the company. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Activision Blizzard last week, alleging that the company fostered a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.”
Following a combative response to the lawsuit from corporate leadership, a group of employees at Blizzard will stage a walkout, which is planned for Wednesday at 10 a.m. PDT. Most employees at Blizzard continue to work remotely, but walkout participants will gather tomorrow at the gates to the company’s Irvine campus.
“Given last week’s statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as the subsequent internal statement from Frances Townsend, and the many stories shared by current and former employees of Activision Blizzard since, we believe that our values as employees are not being accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership,” the organizers wrote.
Activision Blizzard publishes some of the biggest titles in gaming, including the Call of Duty franchise, World of Warcraft, Starcraft and Overwatch. Blizzard came under Activision’s wing through a 2008 merger and the subsidiary operates out of its own Irvine, California headquarters.
In the suit, the state agency describes a “frat house” atmosphere in which women are not only not afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts, but are routinely and openly harassed, sometimes by their superiors.
The company pushed back last week in a fiery statement, blaming “unaccountable state bureaucrats that are driving many of the state’s best businesses out of California” for pursuing the lawsuit. Activision Blizzard Executive Vice President Frances Townsend, former Homeland Security adviser to George W. Bush, echoed that aggressive messaging in an internal memo, slamming the lawsuit as a “distorted and untrue picture of our company.”
In an open letter published Monday, the walkout’s organizers condemned Blizzard’s response to the lawsuit’s allegations. “We believe these statements have damaged our ongoing quest for equality inside and outside of our industry,” they wrote. “ … These statements make it clear that our leadership is not putting our values first.”
More than 2,600 employees signed the letter, which demands an end to mandatory arbitration clauses that “protect abusers and limit the ability of victims to seek restitution,” improved representation and opportunities for women and nonbinary employees, salary transparency and a full audit of diversity, equity and inclusion at the company.
On Twitter, streamers, gamers, game devs and former employees expressed support for Wednesday’s walkout under the hashtag #ActiBlizzWalkout, with some calling for a blackout on Activision Blizzard games as a show of solidarity. Others called for streamers to use the walkout time slot to raise awareness about rampant sexual harassment and discrimination in gaming culture at large.
One Blizzard employee shared a photo of the company’s iconic statue depicting an axe-wielding orc, a central feature of its Irvine headquarters. Three plaques displaying corporate values that surround the statue had been covered with paper: “Lead responsibly,” “play nice, play fair,” and “every voice matters.”