The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sounds like a bureaucratic borefest, but it's actually pretty important. It files lawsuits against companies and landlords accused of discrimination. Today we talk about California's lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. The Santa Monica company made $8 billion last year on the strength of classic video game titles like "Call of Duty" and "World of Warcraft." But the state argues the company let fester a "pervasive frat boy workplace culture" that led to sexual harassment against women.
When California's fair employment agency sued Activision Blizzard, one of the largest video game studios in the world, on July 20th, it wasn't surprising to hear the allegations of systemic gender discrimination and sexual harassment at the company. It wasn't a shock to read about male executives groping their female colleagues, or loudly joking about rape in the office, or completely ignoring women for promotions. What was surprising was that California wanted to investigate Activision Blizzard at all, considering these issues have seemingly been present since its founding in 1979. Activision Blizzard is a multibillion-dollar publisher with 9,500 employees and a roster of legendary franchises, including Call of Duty, Overwatch, Diablo and World of Warcraft. On July 20th, California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, alleging executives had fostered an environment of misogyny and frat-boy rule for years, violating equal pay laws and labor codes along the way.
Historically, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has been highly selective in pursuing its own lawsuits. In California, individuals must lodge their complaint with the agency before filing a lawsuit against their employer. Typically the DFEH immediately grants them this right and reviews complaints for potential investigation, but it seldom pursues the cases itself. In 2019, the agency received 22,584 total complaints and filed four of its own cases. It filed 29 in 2018, following 20,822 complaints.
The company behind some of the biggest video games in the world is facing intense scrutiny after California regulators filed a lawsuit on July 20 alleging that it has fostered an intensely sexist workplace culture. The state's Department of Fair Employment and Housing is suing Activision Blizzard, the publisher of Call of Duty and Warcraft, following a two-year investigation in which it allegedly discovered evidence that women at the company perpetually face professional and personal discrimination. The disturbing examples span everything from pay imbalances and a glass ceiling to a drunken office culture wherein rape jokes and unwanted advances go unpunished. The company quickly denied the allegations in the lawsuit, but the scandal is snowballing. Both current and former executives have reacted with horror at the investigation, and a growing number of Activision Blizzard employees have shared their own troubling experiences working at the publisher--experiences that echo similar stories of discrimination at other major video game companies.
Nearly 1,000 current and former Activision Blizzard Inc. employees have signed a letter calling the company's responses to a recent discrimination lawsuit "abhorrent and insulting." The new letter, which was reviewed by Bloomberg, was circulated Monday following a turbulent week for the publisher behind games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. Last week, the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment filed an explosive lawsuit against Activision Blizzard that alleged sexual discrimination, harassment and retaliation. In response, an Activision Blizzard spokesman called the allegations false and distorted. A subsequent email from Activision executive Frances Townsend described the suit's claims as "factually incorrect, old and out of context."
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard this week over alleged sexual harassment and discrimination against women. In a memo to staff obtained by Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier, Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack wrote that "the allegations and the hurt of current and former employees are extremely troubling." Brack wrote that everyone should feel safe at Blizzard and that "it is completely unacceptable for anyone in the company to face discrimination or harassment." He noted it requires courage for people to come forward with their stories, and that all claims brought to the company are taken seriously and investigated. "People with different backgrounds, views, and experiences are essential for Blizzard, our teams, and our player community," Brack wrote.
Civil liberties activists are suing a company that provides facial recognition services to law enforcement agencies and private companies around the world, contending that Clearview AI illegally stockpiled data on 3 billion people without their knowledge or permission. The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court in the San Francisco bay area, says the New York company violates California's constitution and seeks a court order to bar it from collecting biometric information in California and requiring it to delete data on Californians. The lawsuit says the company has built "the most dangerous" facial recognition database in the nation, has fielded requests from more than 2,000 law enforcement agencies and private companies and has amassed a database nearly seven times larger than the FBI's. Separately, the Chicago Police Department stopped using the New York company's software last year after Clearview AI was sued in Cook County by the American Civil Liberties Union. The California lawsuit was filed by four activists and the groups Mijente and Norcal Resist.
Clearview AI has amassed a database of more than 3 billion photos of individuals by scraping sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Venmo. It's bigger than any other known facial-recognition database in the U.S., including the FBI's. The New York company uses algorithms to map the pictures it stockpiles, determining, for example, the distance between an individual's eyes to construct a "faceprint." This technology appeals to law enforcement agencies across the country, which can use it in real time to help determine people's identities. It also has caught the attention of civil liberties advocates and activists, who allege in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the company's automatic scraping of their images and its extraction of their unique biometric information violate privacy and chill protected political speech and activity.
In January, when New York's Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act went into effect, the City of New York Police Department was suddenly forced to detail the tools it had long kept from public view. But instead of giving New Yorkers transparency, the NYPD gave error-filled, boilerplate statements that hide almost everything of value. Almost none of the policies list specific vendors, surveillance tool models, or information-sharing practices. The department's facial recognition policy says it can share data "pursuant to on-going criminal investigations, civil litigation, and disciplinary proceedings," a standard so broad it's largely meaningless. This marks the greatest test yet of Community Control of Police Surveillance (CCOPS), a growing effort to ensure that the public can take back control over the decisions of how communities are surveilled, deciding whether tools like facial recognition, drones, and predictive policing are acceptable for their neighborhoods.
In 2018, Riot Games, the developer and publisher behind games such as "League of Legends" and "Valorant," made headlines after a Kotaku exposé about the company's culture of sexism. The article outlined an environment in which women were regularly passed over for promotions, and a company with an ingrained "bro culture," where demeaning and discriminatory behavior was viewed as normal. Kotaku's story led to a class action gender discrimination lawsuit. It also spawned two separate investigations by regulators in California, where Riot is based.