By: Alyssa Taylor

Trigger Warning: sexual harassment, suicide.

This summer, after two years of investigation, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against the video game company Activision Blizzard (Blizzard).[1] DEFH’s complaint accused Blizzard, the creator of popular games World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Call of Duty of fostering a workplace of intense prejudice against women.[2] The sordid details of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination that led to the suit quickly hit the news cycle in explosive stories from the likes of Bloomberg Law, TIME Magazine, and The Washington Post.[3] DEFH’s complaint and the subsequent news reports told of a pervasive “frat boy” culture characterized by rape jokes, groping of female employees, and alcohol-fueled “cube crawls,” in which drunk-on-the-job male employees climbed through office cubicles, harassing the women they worked with.[4]  Unfortunately, the problems at Blizzard went beyond sexual harassment. Women working at Blizzard reported being regularly passed over for promotions in favor of less experienced men, facing retaliation via demotions or dismissals after reporting incidents of sexual harassment to human resources, and receiving lower wages than their male counterparts.[5] Most tragically of all, the DEFH’s complaint recounted an incident in which a female employee, who had been the subject of intense sexual harassment at the company, took her own life during a business trip with a male supervisor.[6]

Blizzard is not the first gaming company to come under fire for gender discrimination and harassment claims.[7] Companies such as Ubisoft, NetherRealm (owned by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment), Gearbox, and Riot Games have faced similar allegations.[8] What makes this lawsuit notable is the plaintiff. In this case, it is a government entity, not an individual or class of individuals.[9] California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) allows for DFEH’s involvement, but the department has been highly selective about filing its own lawsuits.[10]  In 2019, it received 22,584 total complaints but filed only four of its own cases.[11] Such a low ratio of complaints to cases pursued by DFEH itself indicates the significance of this lawsuit.

The progression and eventual outcome of this case is likely to be closely followed by anyone interested in the development of gender anti-discrimination laws. A state agency lawsuit targeting such a large and well-known gaming company has the potential to send a powerful message to similar companies about what behavior will and will not be tolerated by the legal system in California. If Blizzard agrees to what could be a multi-million-dollar settlement, or if the case goes to trial and Blizzard loses, the clear message would be that there are real and significant consequences for allowing toxic workplace cultures to thrive.[12] The spectacle of this case, even in its preliminary stages, has already been enough to garner some response in the gaming world. E-sports news sites including The Gamer and Prima Games have stopped covering Blizzard gaming and some Twitch streamers and players are boycotting games created by Blizzard.[13]

Of course, the twenty-four-hour news cycle is quick to move on and the public’s attention is quick to follow. Without a decisive and example-setting legal reprimand, the corporate gaming industry could simply slide back into its sexist status quo. However, attempts by the leadership at Blizzard to publicly defend against the claims made in DEFH’s complaint have been met with harsh criticism[14] and DFEH isn’t about to waste its time on a case with no teeth.[15] There may yet be reason to hope for a world in which canned corporate lip-service fails to sweep bad behavior under the rug.

 *Addendum: At the end of September, an $18 million settlement was reached between Activision Blizzard and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a lawsuit containing allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.[16] DFEH filed an objection to the settlement, which the department says would cause “irreparable harm” to their ongoing case against Blizzard.[17]

[1] Maeve Allsup, Activision Blizzard Sued Over ‘Frat Boy’ Culture, Harassment (1), BLOOMBERG LAW: DAILY LABOR REPORT, (Jul. 21, 2021, 10:59 PM),

[2] Liz Lanier, ‘Cube Crawls’ and ‘Frat Bro’ Culture: California’s Huge Activision Blizzard Lawsuit Alleges Yet Another Toxic Workplace in the Video Game Industry, TIME, (Aug. 4, 2021, 11:36 AM),

[3] Allsup, supra note 1; see also Lanier, supra note 2; Noah Smith, Explosive Activision Blizzard lawsuit could set California labor law precedent, lawyers say, WASHINGTON POST, (Jul. 28, 2021, 12:43 PM),

[4] Complaint, Dep’t of Fair Emp. and Hous. v. Activision Blizzard, Inc., No. 21-ST-CV-26571 (Super. Ct. Cal. July 20, 2021).

[5] Allsup, supra note 1; Complaint, Dep’t of Fair Emp. and Hous. v. Activision Blizzard, Inc., No. 21-ST-CV-26571 (Super. Ct. Cal. July 20, 2021).

[6] Complaint, Dep’t of Fair Emp. and Hous. v. Activision Blizzard, Inc., No. 21-ST-CV-26571 (Super. Ct. Cal. July 20, 2021).

[7] Lanier, supra note 2.

[8] Id.

[9] Allsup, supra note 1.

[10] Smith, supra note 3.

[11] Id.

[12] Wes Fenlon, Everything That’s Happened Since the Activision Blizzard Lawsuit Went Public, PC GAMER,, (last visited Sept. 24, 2021).

[13] Lanier, supra note 2.

[14] Mike Hume & Shannon Liao, Activision Blizzard Staff Rebuke ‘Insulting’ Leadership Response to Discrimination Lawsuit, THE WASHINGTON POST, (Jul 26, 2021, 6:19 PM),

[15] Smith, supra note 3.

[16] Shannon Liao, Activision Blizzard to Create $18 Million Fund for Harassment Victims in Federal Employment Agency Settlement, THE WASHINGTON POST, (Sept, 28, 2021, 1:02 PM),

[17] Matt Wales, California Files Objection to Recent Activision Blizzard Settlement, Says Will Cause “Irreparable Harm” to Its Legal Proceedings, EUROGAMER, (Oct. 8, 2021),

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