Activision Blizzard’s $55 Million Settlement “Won’t Ever Make the Scars Heal,” Former Employee Says

“Money won’t ever make the scars heal.”

Activision Blizzard headquarters in Santa Monica, California, US, on Monday, May 15, 2023. Microsoft...
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Bringing a potential end to a years-long saga, Activision Blizzard has agreed to a nearly $55 million settlement to end a discrimination case it has been fighting since 2021, the publisher confirmed to Inverse. The California Civil Rights Department announced last Friday it would settle the lawsuit alleging that Activision Blizzard withheld opportunities from women while fostering a culture of harassment that went unchallenged by leaders at the company. The settlement still needs to be approved by the court.

However, Activision Blizzard is still facing a lawsuit brought by Lisa Bloom, an attorney who has represented eight women in a separate sexual harassment claim.

“My cases are still going forward,” Bloom said. “I have fought for and won significant financial settlements for seven of my eight Activision sexual harassment clients. We continue to fight the eighth case and anticipate victory in that one soon.”

To resolve the California state suit, Activision Blizzard will pay around $45 million into a fund to be split among women who worked for the developer between October 2015 and December 2020. An additional $10 million will be used to cover the CRD’s legal fees. Activision Blizzard will also be required to continue its efforts to recruit and retain a diverse workforce and use an outside consultant to evaluate its pay and promotion policies.

The developer of World of Warcraft and Call of Duty has agreed to a $50 million settlement in its harassment and discrimination case.

Activision Blizzard

“Though I’m glad it’s finally over, it feels bittersweet that the harassment charges had to be dropped and the only claim could be for discrimination,” a former employee who will receive part of the settlement tells Inverse. “The silver lining: more women won’t have to go through the horrible process of being depositioned only to have their trauma exploited and used against them by ABK lawyers. And though money won’t ever make the scars heal, at least it can serve as reparation for what happened, as well as set a precedent for when this happens again.”

The California State Department agreed to withdraw the claim of sexual harassment, which Activision Blizzard has consistently denied. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Activision Blizzard did conduct an internal investigation and issued a 2022 board statement that “the company has been subject to an unrelenting barrage of media criticism that attempts to paint the entire company (and many innocent employees) with the stain of a very small portion of our employee population who engaged in bad behavior and were disciplined for it.”

When asked how many women had brought a harassment complaint against the company, Activision Blizzard declined to answer and instead shared a chart, stating that between the years of 2017 and 2021, employees made 71 reports of gender-based harassment and of those, 45 were substantiated. In 2022, this number grew to 114 reports, as it started to include discrimination or retaliation, and 29 of those cases were found to be substantiated.

"I applaud my state, California, for standing for the rights of women, including so many who suffered gender discrimination at Activision,” says Bloom. “Yet the dropping of the sexual harassment claims is disappointing. CRD clearly made a decision prioritizing getting money into the pockets of women who were discriminated against now over fighting over language indefinitely." Bloom declined to share how much money her clients were able to receive in their cases against Activision Blizzard.

In the settlement agreement, the CRD acknowledges that no investigation “has substantiated any allegations that there has been systemic or widespread sexual harassment at Activision Blizzard” or found that the company’s board of directors or CEO Bobby Kotick acted improperly.

Independent reviews commissioned by Activision Blizzard have not found evidence of wrongdoing by CEO Bobby Kotick.

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Neither an investigation requested by the company’s board of directors nor a review it commissioned from former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chair Gilbert Casellas found evidence to back up claims of widespread, systemic harassment. “While there were incidents of individual workplace misconduct – as with most large employers - these were individual versus systemic claims and were routinely raised and resolved in a professional manner,” Activision Blizzard wrote in a summary of Casellas’ review.

Activision Blizzard’s inaugural Transparency Report from 2022 noted that the company investigated all 114 claims of harassment and discrimination made against it, finding 29 to be substantiated.

“We appreciate the importance of the issues addressed in this agreement and we are dedicated to fully implementing all the new obligations we have assumed as part of it,” Activision Blizzard said in a statement on the settlement. “We want our employees to know that, as the agreement specifies, we are committed to ensuring fair compensation and promotion policies and practices for all our employees, and we will continue our efforts regarding inclusion of qualified candidates from underrepresented communities in outreach, recruitment, and retention.”

The announcement marks the second time Activision Blizzard has agreed to pay out a settlement regarding alleged discrimination. In September 2021, the publisher settled a suit brought by the EEOC, alleging that the company failed to take sexual harassment claims from employees seriously. As part of that settlement, Activision Blizzard committed to strengthening its policies against harassment and discrimination and creating an $18 million compensation fund for those who alleged harassment.

Poor conditions at game developers — including harassment, low pay, and insecure employment — have led to a wave of unions in the industry in recent years. Activision Blizzard itself is home to some of the highest-profile unions, formed by QA workers at subsidiary Raven Software and Blizzard Albany. Activision Blizzard was recently acquired by Microsoft, and the tech giant confirmed that the new workers will be covered by its existing agreement not to interfere in unionization efforts.

In 2022, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella obliquely referenced Activision Blizzard’s reputation, noting “we will have significant work to do in order to continue to build a culture where everyone can do their best work.”

Shannon Liao contributed additional reporting.

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