Activision’s employees are undertaking a protest walkout

Employees say the company’s response to a lawsuit regarding claims of pervasive sexual harassment was "abhorrent and insulting."

PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 19: In this photo illustration a gamer plays the video game 'Call of Duty: ...
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Potentially thousands of employees at Activision Blizzard won’t go into work on Wednesday, in protest at its response to a lawsuit filed by the state of California claiming widespread sexual harassment at the gaming company. Activision Blizzard publishes popular titles including Call of Duty and StarCraft.

The protest decision comes after more than 2,000 employees yesterday signed a letter to management demanding greater reforms to improve workplace culture at the company. Activision has been dismissive about the suit, however, saying that the claims made by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing are “distorted, and in many cases false.” The suit comes following a two-year investigation of the company by the department.

Pushback from within — "We believe that our values as employees are not being accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership," organizers of the protest told Polygon. Activision says that it has made sufficient changes in recent years to improve workplace conditions, but the employees who signed the letter contradicting that claim represent an estimated 25 percent of its workforce.

Those staging the walkout issued a list of demands, including new recruiting practices that improve representation, and a call to make employee compensation public.

The video game industry has long been plagued by sexism. Most developers today are male, and that can reinforce the alienation of women who don’t feel they’re treated appropriately by male colleagues or have anyone to turn to who will understand their concerns. California’s lawsuit describes Activision as having a “frat boy” culture.

A litany of examples — Some of the allegations in California’s lawsuit are pretty nasty. In one instance, a female employee died by suicide during a work trip, which the suit claims occurred due to a sexual relationship she had been having with her male supervisor. The women had been repeatedly harassed at work, it says, and male employees even went so far as to pass around images of her genitalia during a holiday party.

It’s hard to believe that a two-year investigation is totally without merit, even if some of the allegations don’t end up holding up in court. Activision is holding its ground for now, though, but it seems unlikely the problem will go away as long as California moves forward with its case.

Activision will likely concede eventually and promise to make more reforms — any threat to the bottom line has to be addressed, after all. But the whole situation shows how organized labor could be useful among the ranks of engineers, which have long eschewed unions as the compensation and benefits of such jobs have been fairly good, reducing the appetite for collective bargaining. But just because the pay might be good, doesn’t mean there aren’t other problems that could be remedied through collective action.