California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a complaint against Activision Blizzard to the Los Angeles Superior Court alleging a sexist culture in which women faced multiple forms of discrimination and abuse reaching back more than a decade. The lawsuit is a result of a two-year investigation into the company and has led to widespread condemnation of Activision Blizzard, including from their own employees, who signed an open letter denouncing the company and are planning a walk-out protest.
Here is a full timeline of the fallout from the Activision Blizzard gender discrimination lawsuit situation.
California vs. Activision Blizzard: Abridged timeline
- July 20 | State of California files gender discrimination complaint against Activision Blizzard
- July 21 | Activision Blizzard Leadership releases a statement denying allegations
- July 23 | Past and Present employees speak out confirming stories of abuse
- July 24 | World of Warcraft developers say work has stopped following the lawsuit
- July 26 | Employees sign open letter condemning leadership’s statement
- July 26 | Activision Blizzard hosts a partial staff meeting
- July 27 | Employees organize a walkout to support petition against Activision Blizzard
- July 27 | Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick sends letter to employees
- July 27 | Activision Blizzard hires union-busting lawfirm WilmerHale to audit company
- July 28 | Employees walk out and denounce Activision Blizzard's sexist culture
- July 28 | Kotaku reveals information on the "Cosby Suite" mentioned in the complaint
- July 31| Security Researcher reveals Blizzard recruiters harassed her at job fair in 2015
- August 3 | Blizzard President J. Allen Brack steps down amid backlash from lawsuit
- August 3 | Activision Blizzard investors sue company over withholding facts related to DFEH lawsuit
- August 4 | Senior VP of HR leaves Blizzard amid investigation
- August 6 | Harassment lawsuit costs Blizard and OWL yet another sponsor
- August 11 | Diablo 4 director, lead designer fired
- August 24 | DFEH expands lawsuit to include contractors and temp workers, accuses Activision Blizzard of shredding documents
- September 27 | US Federal Government EEOC sues Activision for sexual harassment and discrimination, settles for $18 million USD
- October 20 | Activision Blizzard requests stay in lawsuit, alleging DFEH conflict of interest
- October 26 | LA Court rejects Activision Blizzard request to pause lawsuit
- November 16 | Bobby Kotick under fire as new evidence suggests he was aware of sexual allegations
- November 16 | Activision Blizzard responds to WSJ allegations that Bobby Kotick ignored sexual misconduct
- November 16 | Activision Blizzard employees stage walkout demanding CEO's removal
- November 18 | Xbox and Sony reevaluate relationships with Activision
- November 18 | 1000+ Activision Blizzard employees sign open letter demanding removal of Bobby Kotick
The DFEH filed its lawsuit on July 20, 2021, with the Los Angeles Superior Court.
In the 29-page document, the DFEH alleges a variety of forms of unlawful sex discrimination, dating back over a decade in some cases. The suit further alleges that numerous leaders had complaints filed against them, including Blizzard CEO J. Allen Brack, but that the company consistently failed to act on them. Moreover, the suit also claims that employees were discouraged by HR from reporting harassment at the company.
The list of allegations includes multiple counts of:
- Sex discrimination: Pay
- Sex discrimination: Assignment
- Sex discrimination: Promotion
- Sex discrimination: Termination
- Sex discrimination: Constructive Discharge
- Sexual Harassment
- Retaliation and Failure to prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation
Major allegations include:
- Women of color were "particularly vulnerable targets of [Activision Blizzards'] discriminatory practices"
- Female employees likened Activision Blizzard to "working in a frat house" with "cube crawls" and rape jokes being common. This behavior was known to and even encouraged by supervisors
- Senior Creative Director of WoW Alex Afrasiabi permitted blatant harassment under his watch, to the extent his office was dubbed the "Cosby suite" (in reference to Bill Cosby)
- A female employee committed suicide on a company trip "due to a sexual relationship she was having with her male supervisor"
- A former CTO was observed "groping inebriated female employees" and was known for making hiring decisions on the basis of how applicants looked
Activision Blizzard responded to the lawsuit with a blanket denial of wrongdoing, followed by numerous attacks on the DFEH itself. Among other things, the company claimed the complaint distorted and lied about Blizzard's past, and claimed that the complaint was "inaccurate", "disgraceful", and "unprofessional".
A statement was sent to Jason Schreier of Bloomberg Law (available in the link).
Following the public release of the complaint, numerous current and former employees spoke up in confirmation of the allegations and stood in solidarity with the victims. The following is by no means a comprehensive list, though we will do our best to include all of the most notable and relevant statements we can.
From Mike Morhaime, former CEO of Blizzard
From Chris Metzen former Senior Vice President of Story and Franchise Development for Blizzard Entertainment
From Anne Armstrong:
From Joy Fields, former Blizzard Employee:
From Kevin Meier, former Blizzard employee
“Since my first day back in 2012, I was sexually harassed, and women have it way worse," Meier stated in a TikTok video.
From NYXL, Overwatch League franchise team
From Grummz, former Blizzard employee
From San Francisco Shock:
From Florida Mayhem:
July 24: World of Warcraft developers say work has stopped following the lawsuit
World of Warcraft developer Jeff Hamilton released a statement, in which he condemned the "horrible trauma that has been inflicted upon my coworkers, friends and colleagues."
Alex Klontzas confirmed that the next patch will likely “take longer to release” due to the ongoing situation.
On Monday, hundreds of former and current employees signed a petition, condemning Activision Blizzard’s statement. In that open letter sent to IGN, Bloomberg, and others, employees explained that (in summary below):
- They agreed that "statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as the subsequent internal statement from Frances Townsend, are abhorrent and insulting"
- While "executives have claimed that actions will be taken to protect us", there's no longer trust the leaders can protect victims and put safety above self-interest
- Employees call for official statements that "recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault"
- Employees call for Frances Townsend to step down as Executive Sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network
On Monday, according to Ty Galiz-Rowe of Uppercut, Activision Blizzard hosted an "all-hands" meeting to address the lawsuit, though only 500 employees were reportedly able to attend the Zoom call. Blizzard Executive Joshua Taub hosted the meeting, in which he reportedly suggested that the only proper way to handle the issue is through internal handling rather than a lawsuit, despite the lawsuit explicitly indicting Activision’s failure to internally handle these matters.
Taub also reportedly confirmed that the company fully intends to fight the suit, saying "an allegation is not a conviction."
On Tuesday, Activision Blizzard employees organized a work stoppage for Wednesday, July 28, to support their open letter against their company and thoroughly denounce the companies failure to admit fault or institute any changes. The organizers of the protest have named four specific demands for change.
- End mandatory arbitration clauses in employee contracts, which are widely believed to protect companies and not employees
- Institute hiring practices that improve representation and equity for women, people of color, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups
- Publicly publish compensation data, promotion rates, and salary ranges for employees in the company
- Creation of diversity, equity, and inclusion task force from a third party to audit the HR department, executive staff, and the company reporting structure.
Virtual working employees and supporters of the protest will use #ActiBlizzWalkout to boost awareness and support for the walkout.
Bobby Kotick broke his silence in a letter to all employees on Tuesday. The email outlined what he referred to as "swift action" to make the company a safer, more inclusive workplace.
In the email, Kotick apologized for the "tone deaf" initial response from Activision Blizzard.
Read his full statement here.
Activision Blizzard retained the services of WilmerHale to carry out an internal investigation into their policies and procedures. WilmerHale is known as a top corporate law firm that reportedly helped Amazon break up an attempt from Amazon workers to unionize earlier this year.
Employees walked out in protest on July 28th, with in-person employees meeting at the gates of Activision Blizzards Irvine headquarters and virtual employees abstaining from work and using #ActiBlizzWalkout online to raise awareness of the employee's demands.
Protest organizers released the following statement in response to Kotick's, as reported by Megan Farokmanesh of Axios:
Kotaku reporter Ethan Gach published an article on July 28th that revealed alleged details regarding the Bill "Cosby Suite" which was the nickname allegedly given to Alex Afrasiabi 's hotel room at BlizzCon in 2013. In that report, Gach reveals an alleged photo from the room showing eight Blizzard developers posing with a portrait of formerly convicted rapist Bill Cosby.
The lawsuit mentioned Afrasiabi by name, claiming that he would often "engage in harassment of females" in his hotel rooms, thus the Cosby reference. According to sources that spoke with Kotaku, the room was also a hangout spot for developers. Kotaku also obtained screenshots from a group message t thread that appears to show multiple male Blizzard employees discussing bringing women to the "Coz" which is presumably a shortened version of the Cosby Suite.
“An employee brought these 2013 events to our attention in June 2020,” a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard told Kotaku regarding “Cosby Suite” images and allegations. “We immediately conducted our own investigation and took corrective action. At the time of the report, we had already conducted a separate investigation of Alex Afrasiabi and terminated him for his misconduct in his treatment of other employees.”
Read Kotaku's full report here.
The Overwatch League finally broke its silence regarding the ongoing Activision Blizzard lawsuit on Friday, July 30th. In line with other statements from Blizzard, they condemned discrimination and harassment, while avoiding any admission that those were prevalent within Activision Blizzard.
Security researcher Emily Mitchell revealed to Waypoint, a gaming publication from Vice, that Blizzard recruiters asked her if she "liked being penetrated" at a job fair in 2015 in Las Vegas.
"I didn't feel comfortable saying anything to anyone at the time because I was a single mom who needed a job, and I didn't want to do anything that may have jeopardized my chances of landing a new job," Mitchell explained to Waypoint.
Blizzard President J. Allen Brack stepped down from his role on Tuesday. Not only was Brack in charge when many of the alleged abuses named in the Blizzard gender discrimination lawsuit happened, but also some of the accusations also named Brack specifically. He will be replaced by Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra.
Activision Blizzard investors filed a class-action lawsuit against the company alleging that the company repeatedly made misleading and false statements to investors regarding the DFEH investigation over the past five years.
August 4: Senior VP of HR, Jesse Meschuk, leaves Blizzard following DFEH investigation
The senior figure in charge of Human Resources for Blizzard left the company this week amid allegations of widespread employee abuse and failure by the firm to take them seriously. Jesse Meschuk, who was Senior Vice President of Global Human Resources for Blizzard, quietly stepped down this week as pressure increased on the company.
August 6: Harassment lawsuit costs Blizzard & OWL yet another sponsor
Kellog's ended its relationship with the Overwatch League on Friday in response to the allegations of gender discrimination that have been leveled at the developer of Overwatch, Blizzard Entertainment. Kellog's decision to leave the Overwatch League comes amid other advertisers evaluating their own sponsorships with the already embattled league. Coca-Cola and State Farm both told the Washington Post that they are not advertising on this weekend's games, and they are reexamining their respective OWL partnerships.
Director of Diablo 4 Luis Barriga, lead level designer Jesse McCree, and World of Warcraft Designer Jonathon LeCraft are no longer with Activision Blizzard, in the wake of the gender discrimination allegations targeted at Activision Blizzard by the State of California. McCree and LeCraft were featured in the now-infamous Cosby Suite photo, also revealed first by Kotaku, which depicted a group of Activision Blizzard male employees posing with a picture of Bill Cosby inside a former Blizzard employee Alex Afrasiabi's hotel suite at Pax in 2013.
August 24: DFEH expands lawsuit to include contractors and temp workers, accuses Activision Blizzard of shredding documents
In an updated copy of the lawsuit reviewed by Megan Farokhmanesh and Stephen Totilo of Axios, the California DFEH is reportedly amending the lawsuit to include contract workers and temp workers, rather than just employees of Activision Blizzard. The amended suit also includes new accusations that Activision Blizzard's HR department shredded documents pertaining to the accusations contained in the lawsuit.
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a complaint against Activision Blizzard under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging unlawful gender discrimination and harassment. Activision Blizzard released a statement, responding to the new lawsuit. In that statement, they committed to making an $18 million USD fund to compensate the claimants against them in an agreement struck with the EEOC.
Activision Blizzard filed an Application to Stay for the gender discrimination lawsuit filed against them by the State of California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), so they can investigate claims that two lawyers representing the DFEH have a conflict of interest that could potentially disqualify them from the case.
The LA County Court denied Activision Blizzard's request to stay the ongoing gender discrimination lawsuit filed against the company by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), according to a report by Jame Batchelor of Gameindustry.biz. The denied request alleged that two members of DFEH legal council team have conflicts of interest due to their previous work the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission.
Bobby Kotick was aware of serious sexual allegations made against employees in 2017 and 2018, according to an investigation by Kirsten Grind, Ben Fritz and Sarah E. Needleman, published in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The story relates to a female employee at Sledgehammer Games, an Activision-owned publisher, who states she was attacked on more than one occasion after being pressured into over-drinking at office events she attended.
The article claims that the employee reported both incidents to the Human Resources department at Sledgehammer, which prompted Activision to settle with the alleged victim out of court. People with knowledge of the board allege that Kotick was aware of the case and its outcomes, but decided not to tell shareholders about it, and has since stated that he was unaware of many of the allegations made against Activision employees that have subsequently come to light.
November 16: Activision Blizzard responds to WSJ allegations that Bobby Kotick ignored sexual misconduct
Activision Blizzard released a statement in response to the Wall Street Journal report released on Tuesday that claimed CEO Bobby Kotick was aware of instances of sexual misconduct but chose to look the other way. In their statement, ABK denies all allegations that Kotick failed to act on information he already knew. They also called the report "misleading" without supplying any evidence demonstrating that it was misleading.
Activision Blizzard employees organized their second walkout this year on Tuesday, Nov. 16th, following the thorough report from Wall Street Journal published on Tuesday alleging that ABK CEO Bobby Kotick protected known abusers in the company, refused to inform shareholders of the abusers, and even reportedly threatened to have an employee killed. The walk out reportedly included hundreds of workers from the ABK Irvine campus, and more remote workers online as well.
Both Xbox and Playstation leaders released statements expressing their concern with Activision Blizzard's response to the Kotick accusations, with both companies also saying they are "reevaluating" their relationship with ABK moving forward.
In an open-letter released on Nov. 18th, over 1000 Activision Blizzard employees called for the removal of Bobby Kotick as the CEO of Activision Blizzard.
Aaron is an esports reporter with a background in media, technology, and communication education.