Friday, August 6, 2021

The 11th nominee for the “Worst Employer of 2021” is … the Cosby Suite

If you're my age, when you hear the name Activision you think of games like Kaboom!, Pitfall!, and the Atari 2600. If you're younger you might think of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater or Call of Duty. No matter your age, after you read this lawsuit, you'll only be able to think, "OMG, what the hell is wrong with them?!"

According to the lawsuit the State of California is bringing against Activision Blizzard, "During a company event … [key World of Warcarft developer Alex] Afrasiabi would hit on female employees, telling [them] he wanted to marry them, attempting to kiss them, and putting his arms around them. This was in plain view of other male employees, including supervisors, who had to intervene and pull him off female employees. Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite was nicknamed the 'Cosby Suite' after alleged rapist Bill Cosby."

An investigation by gaming industry website, which included analysis of Facebook posts of various Activision Blizzard employees, including Afrasiabi, revealed that the name "Cosby Suite" was not just a nickname and joke, but instead a calculated decision based on the purpose of the room — a booze-filled hot spot that male employees would use to groom females. 

In one image procured by Kotaku, a group of women are sitting on a bed in the room with the Cosby portrait. One of the women appears to have a hand on another's breast, which is cheered on by the men in the comments. According to the images procured by Kotaku, and two sources with knowledge of Afrasiabi's alleged predatory behavior, Cosby's reputation was apparently the point of why the group of men gathered around his picture in the photos.

At least one photo posted to Facebook shows a company HR representative present in the Cosby Suite. 

And that's the tip of the frat-boy harassment culture that is alleged to permeate Activision Blizzard.

  • Male employees (including supervisors) have "cube crawls," in which they get drunk at work and crawl from cube to cube subjecting female employees to lude and crude behavior, including groping. 
  • The unwanted sexual comments, lude behavior, and groping, they allege, are not limited to the cube crawls, but permeated the workplace (including via high-ranking executives) without oversight or repercussions.
  • A female employee committed suicide during a business trip she took with a male supervisor who had brought butt plugs and lubricant with him.

When complaints were made, the lawsuit alleges, Activision Blizzard ignored them, failed to act, and discouraged further complaints. Indeed it's alleged that HR personnel actively protected senior employees with whom they were friendly.

For its part, Activision Blizzard, in a statement, denies the allegations while seeming to admit they might contain some truth about the company's past.
The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today. Over the past several years and continuing since the initial investigation started, we've made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams. … We are confident in our ability to demonstrate our practices as an equal opportunity employer that fosters a supportive, diverse, and inclusive workplace for our people, and we are committed to continuing this effort in the years to come. 

If you permit one of your key employees to name his hotel suite after one of recent memory's worst serial sexual abusers (among other alleged sexual misconduct), you might be the worst employer of 2021.