Activision Blizzard to pay $18 million to victims of harassment

Activision Blizzard agreed to set up an $18 million fund for employees who have experienced sexual harassment or discrimination, pregnancy discrimination or retaliation as part of a settlement with the federal employment agency on Tuesday.

The consent order, which a federal judge said she intended to sign after Tuesday’s hearing, is in response to lawsuit in September, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed against a Santa Monica video game company alleging that Activision employees were subjected to “brutal” and “pervasive” sexual harassment in the workplace.

Anyone who worked for the company after September 2016 and believes they have been harassed, discriminated against or retaliated against will be eligible to apply for a share of the cash payment. The company officially denied all wrongdoing as part of the settlement, which also included requirements for regular inspections under the supervision of a federal agency for the next three years, changes to workplace policy, and anti-harassment training.

“The court’s approval of this settlement is an important step in ensuring that our employees have protection mechanisms in place if they face any form of harassment or retaliation,” Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said in a statement.

But a number of sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits against Activision Blizzard remain in court, including one filed last week by attorney Lisa Bloom on behalf of a current employee. Meanwhile, the California agency that initiated the company’s prosecution last year objected to the federal settlement on Tuesday when it was first proposed in autumnarguing that it would undermine the state’s lawsuit.

This summer, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing said that Activision, and in particular its division Blizzard, had created a “ubiquitous fraternity boy corporate culture” in which managers made drunken “cube-crawling” employees to molest and paw women. employees, where pay discrimination flourished and where those who opposed such behavior were punished.

The filing set off months of employee unrest and new lawsuits, including staff strikepetitions calling for Kotick to be fired; and complaints and investigations by the EEOC, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the National Labor Relations Board.

However, in order to receive money from the $18 million fund established by Tuesday’s consent decree, recipients must sign a document that waives their rights to any monetary damages or other relief that may be obtained from a California lawsuit for sexual harassment, discrimination in connection with or related to pregnancy. retribution .

Judge Dale S. Fisher denied an attempt by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing to intervene in the consent order in the case, but the agency is appealing the decision. At a Zoom hearing on Tuesday, the agency’s lawyer, Jahan Sagafi, again objected, saying that “EEOC should never have brought this case” while the state’s case was pending. Fisher again rejected the California agency’s argument.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing was not the only one to object to the settlement. Communications Workers of America, which has become increasingly active in organizing and advocating for workers in the tech and video game industries, also opposed the consent decree in the fall. In a statement on Tuesday, Sarah Steffens, secretary-treasurer of the union, said that “Judge Fisher’s approval of the EEOC’s consent order with Activision Blizzard is disappointing and premature,” and that the federal agreement does not hold Activision Blizzard’s management “actually responsible for the harm they caused.” “.

(CWA is also the parent union of NewsGuild, which represents the employees of the Los Angeles Times and most of the nation’s major newspapers.)

A spokesman for the Department of Fair Employment and Housing said in a statement that the agency “will continue to actively pursue its actions against Activision in California court,” adding that the state court has set a trial date for February.

While Activision seemed to be closing one front in its legal defense, another was flaring up. As the Zoom hearing began in federal court, Bloom held a press conference where the three women she represents discussed their experiences in what they called the corporate culture of sexual harassment and assault. The women did not give their full names for privacy reasons.

“For years, the women at the company have been fighting monsters within the company who have treated them like dirt,” said Bloom, who represents a total of eight current and former employees.

One current employee, Kristin, who was named “Jane Doe” in Bloom’s new lawsuit, said she was subjected to frequent sexual harassment.

“I’ve had men in leadership positions put their hands on my lap, come up from behind and hug me tightly from behind, give me their personal phone numbers with comments about coming home to take care of me, touching my breasts, making comments . about my body and try to kiss me,” she said.

Shannon, another Bloom client who spoke via Zoom at the event, said she “suffered from sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual assault by [her] managers and controllers, including on business trips. “When I tried to fight back their sexual harassment, I was reprimanded, ridiculed and threatened with death.”

Ariel, the third speaker, said she had dealt with sexual and emotional abuse at Activision, and that one abuser told her that going to HR would be “meaningless.” She urged other victims to report it.

Bloom also read a statement from a fourth woman, who wished to remain anonymous, in which the woman described a corporate culture of constant drinking and gross jokes that were iconic and akin to hazing.

“What I experienced while working at Blizzard was just terrible,” wrote an anonymous complainant. “The company has seen some of the most disturbing developments in my entire career in the gaming industry,” she added, citing the occasional joke about rape and the obligatory book club in which the company’s management handed out shots of tequila.

“I thought that by speaking openly, I would help others,” the statement said. “But [in] the end, it only hurts my career.”

Major Activision Blizzard franchises include Call of Duty, Warcraft, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and Candy Crush. The company reported revenue of $8.8 billion in 2021. In January, Microsoft announced its plan to buy the company for $68.7 billion.

Kotick will receive a payout of more than $390 million if the Microsoft deal is approved by regulators. Wall Street Journal the study Last year revealed that Kotick had been aware of the sexual harassment allegations for years.