Video game giant Activision Blizzard is being hit with a slew of allegations of sexism, discrimination and harassment of female employees in a lawsuit filed by a California state agency.
The state's Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a civil complaint Wednesday claiming the maker of "Call of Duty" and "World of Warcraft" violated state laws by allowing a "pervasive frat boy workplace culture."
In the latest case highlighting claims of sexism in the video game industry, the lawsuit said the California company "fostered a sexist culture and paid women less than men despite women doing substantially similar work, assigned women to lower level jobs and promoted them at slower rates than men," according to a statement from the state agency.
It also alleges that women "were subjected to constant sexual harassment, including groping, comments, and advances" and that executives knew of this but failed to take action, and instead retaliated against women who complained.
The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles said that women had been subjected to "cube crawls" in which inebriated male colleagues work their way through the workplace and engage in "inappropriate behavior."
One female employee committed suicide during a business trip with a male employee who had brought sex gadgets along on the mission, according to the complaint stemming from a two-year investigation.
"All employers should ensure that their employees are being paid equally and take all steps to prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation," said DFEH director Kevin Kish. "This is especially important for employers in male-dominated industries, such as technology and gaming."
- 'Distorted, false' -
Asked for comment, Activision Blizzard pushed back on the allegations, saying that the lawsuit "includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past."
The company's statement said, "There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind. We take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue."
The game company said it had been "extremely cooperative with the DFEH" but claimed the agency "rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court."
The statement added that "we are sickened" by the inclusion of the suicide of its employee and that it "has no bearing whatsoever on this case."
The lawsuit is the latest case alleging a toxic workplace culture for women in the industry dominated by males despite large numbers of female gamers.
The California agency seeks compensation for female employees affected by the violations as well as other penalties and an order to remedy the problem.
Similar allegations have been made against France-based video game giant Ubisoft as well as US-based Riot Games, maker of "League of Legends."
Ubisoft last year promised a "structural shift" to eliminate toxic behavior following allegations of sexual assault and harassment by managers at the game publisher whose games portfolio includes "Assassin's Creed."
Earlier this year, Riot Games said an independent review found no evidence to support allegations of sexual misconduct by chief executive Nicolo Laurent. A report prepared by an outside law firm came to the conclusion after "an impartial and comprehensive investigation," the company said following a January lawsuit accusing Laurent of retaliating against his assistant.