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Activision Blizzard worker committee demands anti-discrimination reform

List of demands sent to management notes issues around stolen breast milk, human resources investigations

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)
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A group of 12 Activision Blizzard employees have formed an anti-discrimination committee aimed at combating sex and gender discrimination at the company. Even following the settlement of a September 2021 sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit brought forward by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the group says more action is needed from the video game publisher.

“My hope in joining the committee is that we don’t let the fervor die down until there is meaningful, long-lasting change,” said Emily Knief, a senior motion graphic designer at Blizzard. “At the end of the day, I would like to go into work and not have to think about anything but my work. But based on everything that has been happening, even well before it broke through the headlines, it has been taking up a sizable portion of my day, having to think about the inaction of leadership.”

The committee gathered a list of demands which they submitted Tuesday morning to Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, Diversity Officer Kristen Hines and Chief Human Resources Officer Julie Hodges. Over four pages, employees detailed demands such as workers being able to meet with the equal employment opportunity coordinator on diversity and inclusion initiatives, who was appointed as part of the federal sexual harassment settlement. Their other demands include ending undocumented chats with human resources, restricting retaliation against employees who file disputes and the institution of independent investigations around discrimination claims.

“We appreciate that these employees want to join with us to further build a better Activision Blizzard and continue the progress we have already made,” Activision Blizzard spokesperson Jessica Taylor said in a statement. “We have, for example, already upgraded our lactation facilities, waived arbitration, hired new DEI and EEO leaders, and collaborated with employees to make our policies and processes more Trans inclusive, just to name a few issues the letter raises.”

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The list also calls for an end to mandatory arbitration in discrimination cases. In Activision Blizzard’s statement, Taylor said mandatory arbitration of individual sexual harassment and discrimination claims has been waived, a change the company announced last October.

The company stated that the new diversity officer, Hines, would work closely with her team and employee resource groups while partnering with the equal employment coordinator. “We look forward to understanding [employees'] concerns with regards to HR discussions,” Taylor said. “If employees are uncomfortable discussing this with HR then they should approach a senior leader whom they trust.”

Taylor added that retaliation is prohibited and any employee found to have retaliated against anyone for making a complaint would be terminated immediately. As for internal investigations, the company said it combined its investigations groups into one central Ethics team separate from Human Resources and hired more Ethics team members.

One of the demand letter pages is dedicated to demanding private lactation rooms, claiming that previously, “breastmilk was being stolen” as fridges were not secure. The lactation room issues were publicized on Twitter last December by former Blizzard senior test analyst Jessica Gonzalez, citing other women at Blizzard who had negative experiences.

“Nobody else on my team had given birth ever since my team existed,” said a former longtime Blizzard employee who told The Post that from 2016 to just before the pandemic started, when work-from-home became the norm, she used lactation rooms that were ill-equipped. She requested anonymity as she is involved in the lawsuit against the company brought forward by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

This employee’s building did not have a lactation room. She had to walk to other buildings on Blizzard’s campus to access their lactation rooms. Access to a lactation room is legally required in California.

Sometimes, in 2016, she would see another male employee making phone calls or taking a nap within the room. And on one occasion in 2019, she said her breastmilk had been taken out of the fridge and left out until it spoiled. She checked one lactation room fridge, and it was being used to store beer.

The chairs in the lactation room also reclined when people sat in them, she said, which posed a problem. “I don’t know how familiar you are with breast pumps, but you recline and all of the milk will spill on your chest, instead of going into the receptacle. The side tables were corrugated. So anything that spills lives there forever,” she said.

In another instance, when the company was considering construction work on her office and she suggested building in a lactation room, she recalls being told that one wasn’t necessary because there weren’t enough female employees.

“You see how that’s a problem, right? Like, if your argument is ‘I don’t need a lactation room, because we don’t have any female employees,’ but when a female [job candidate] is checking us out prospectively, they’re not gonna want to work here, because they’re not being accommodated,” she said.

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The employees are asking for lactation rooms that are private for people who are breastfeeding or pumping and that the rooms are only open to people who lactate, locked by a key or code, with a place to store breastmilk. Workers are to receive compensation for their time spent breastfeeding, according to the demands, instead of having to clock out.

In February, Activision Blizzard’s human resources department told employees they had installed pin code lock systems for access and later in March, Blizzard said a system for booking quiet rooms on the Irvine, California campus was live, according to messages viewed by The Post and confirmed Tuesday by Activision Blizzard. The company said it has added new locks and additional lactation rooms, and confirmed that reclining chairs can be adjusted to sit straight.

Members of the committee said employees at the company will have a chance to provide feedback via polls, and plans to keep accepting input from employees.

The list of demands also spells out several points regarding trans rights, including the creation of an employee trans network similar to how the company already has a women’s network, support for employees before and after a transition, and for software tools to be wiped of employees’ deadnames — the names trans employees were given at birth.

“Employees who see that we are still using legal names, where not otherwise required by law, can create an HR ticket or otherwise approach an HR team member that they trust. Unfortunately some jurisdictions around the world require employers to use legal names. In those cases, when required by law, we do so,” said Taylor, the Activision Blizzard spokesperson. Taylor noted there is a trans group within the LGBT+ network at the company.

Employees are also asking for 12 weeks of paid time off as parental leave and 100 percent compensation during that time, as opposed to the 10 weeks that are currently offered.

The committee is made up of current and former Activision Blizzard employees, including Gonzalez, who left the company last December.

“I want this committee to be the industry standard for worker protections,” Gonzalez, now campaign organizer at media union Communications Workers of America, said. “Even though I am an Activision Blizzard alum, I am still very much involved in organizing Activision Blizzard. Developers have and will continue to benefit from my activism and I can’t imagine not being there for my fellow workers, former or current.”

The demands come as employees across Activision Blizzard watched a small group of Raven Software quality assurance testers unionize Monday, and with the backdrop of the company getting acquired by Microsoft for nearly $69 billion.

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The group of Activision Blizzard employees said in their list of demands that in addition to fixing internal corporate culture, the company could also address online harassment from customers. They ask that the company ban gamers caught harassing customer support or community employees, and that workers should be able to file incident reports on harassment from customers.

The company responded that it promotes “a safe and respectful community environment,” and that testers can use randomized in-game names to prevent gamers from targeting staff.

Activision quality assurance tester Kara Fannon said that as part of her duties, she has had to hop onto voice call in “Call of Duty: Vanguard” to test the mic but then faced harassment from players on multiple occasions.

“That can take an emotional toll sometimes, if I’m trying to check something out in a live environment and I’m doing it and I’m constantly hearing these things,” Fannon said. “Or if I’m to test the microphone, sometimes I get nervous. Because if people hear that I sound like a woman, sometimes that’s enough for some people to go off … You gotta brace yourself sometimes before going in, knowing that some people might just be throwing slurs around and actively trying to upset people.”

Employees who spoke to The Post said that while the company has promised to improve culture, they remain dissatisfied.

“[Activision Blizzard] have given us the most basic of improvements and it feels like we have fought for those tooth and nail,” said Fabby Garza, a Texas-based Activision quality assurance tester. “Stuff like contractors getting converted into full-time employees, stuff like the small raises we’ve gotten. That doesn’t feel like enough. If they want to be shown as an inclusive company that protects the employees, they should accept each and every one of these demands.”

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