A lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard, and handled in a questionable manner by the company’s executives, led employees to protest on Wednesday, July 28.

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Sexual harassment claims in the video game industry regularly make headlines, and companies regularly seem to be tactless, to put it mildly, in their responses to accusations. On July 20, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), an agency of the State of California, filed a complaint against Activision Blizzard, after a two-year investigation that revealed sexist abuses within the company. Among other things, the complaint alleges a “boys club” culture and “harassment” of women, who are under-represented in the group. It is also mentioned that company executives were aware of, and even participated in, this hostile climate.

The elements reported are not glorious. There is talk of male employees coming to work drunk, playing video games during office hours, and delegating tasks to women. “They joke about their sexual relationships, talk openly about women’s bodies, and joke about rape,” the complaint also states. The women were subjected to numerous sexual comments and advances, unwanted physical touching, and other forms of harassment.”

An inadequate response from the company

The story could have had an entirely different outcome if the game publisher had responded sensitively. Unfortunately, just the opposite happened, fanning the flames of employee anger. J. Allen Brack, the head of Blizzard Entertainment, responded by sending an email to staff, calling the recent allegations“extremely troubling. He also promised to meet with them to answer questions and discuss the company’s future.

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But the most surprising response came from a woman, Frances Townsend. In an internal memo, this group executive said that the complaint was “baseless and irresponsible”, and that it included “old stories taken out of context and factually incorrect”. Statements quite similar to those in the company’s first statement following receipt of the complaint, which called it the work of “irresponsible state bureaucrats.”

The DFEH complaint includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past,” the statement said. We were extremely cooperative with the DFEH throughout their investigation, including providing them with detailed data and extensive documentation, but they refused to inform us of the problems they perceived. They were bound by thea law to properly investigate and have good faith discussions with us to better understand and resolve any claims or concerns before going to court, but they did not.”

Employee anger

We believe these statements have undermined our ongoing quest for equality within and outside our industry,” the employees wrote in a letter to Activision Blizzard executives. Categorizing the claims that have been made as ‘distorted and in many cases false’ creates a corporate atmosphere that does not believe the victims. It also casts doubt on our organizations’ ability to hold abusers accountable for their actions and foster a safe environment for victims to come forward in the future.”

The text explicitly mentions Frances Townsend’s internal statement, which was deemed abhorrent and insulting. ” We call for official statements acknowledging the seriousness of these allegations and showing compassion for victims of harassment and assault,” the document states. We call on Frances Townsend to honor her word to resign as executive sponsor of the ABK Women’s Employee Network due to the damaging nature of her statement.”

The letter and accompanying petition resonated strongly with the company’s workforce. Of the company’s 9,500 employees, more than 2,000 (including former employees) have signed it.

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A demonstration planned for Wednesday

A sign of the anger of the staff, in a country that is nevertheless hostile to unionization, is the demonstration (march) planned for Wednesday 28 July. It will take place both virtually, due to teleworking, and on the Blizzard campus in Irvine.

The scale of the issue is such that changes could even be made within the World of Warcraft game. We also want to take immediate action in Azeroth to remove all references that are not appropriate for our world,” reads a statement released by the game’s development team. Work is already underway, and you’ll see several changes in both Shadowlands and WoW Classic over the next few days.” This includes a reference to the character of Grand Marshal Afrasiabi, named after a company executive who was the subject of several employee complaints and mentioned in the DFEH-led investigation.