Despite having an elaborate statue of an orc riding a wolf bearing a plaque that says, “Every voice matters” outside their headquarters, game development company Activision Blizzard allegedly has a serious workplace problem.
In a sweeping workplace culture lawsuit filed against the company in July 2021, women employed by Activision Blizzard complained that the gaming giant created a frat-like environment that encouraged sexism and workplace harassment. This is not the first such workplace culture lawsuit filed against a major gaming company in the last couple of years.
Giants such as Riot Games and Ubisoft have both been slammed by their women employees for being breeding grounds of sexism, harassment and discrimination.
What are Workplace Culture Lawsuits?
A workplace culture lawsuit is a relatively recent type of lawsuit in which a state sues a private entity over alleged toxic corporate culture. This move usually saves the trouble of individual employees having to file separate complaints against their employer for the same root reasons. It can be considered a variation of the class-action lawsuit, which is a legal move filed by multiple plaintiffs against the same defendant.
The difference between a workplace culture lawsuit such as the one filed against Activision Blizzard and standard class-action lawsuit is the type of harm the defendant has allegedly done.
In a standard class-action lawsuit, the crux of the matter can be that all the plaintiffs have been injured by the same mechanical flaw in a product. Or they could have all been defrauded by the defendant through a pyramid scheme. A workplace culture lawsuit targets employers who have done little or nothing to dissuade other employees from harassing or discriminating against a group of other employees.
Most are like the Activision Blizzard lawsuit which alleges that the company did nothing to curb the frat-boy behavior of its men employees. A workplace culture lawsuit could also attempt to penalize employers for failing to make corrective moves such as punishing employees, even higher-ups, for infractions like harassment or unacceptable language.
Why are Workplace Culture Lawsuits New?
Awareness over the effects of a company’s culture to their employees’ well-being and productivity have been documented since the late 1980s and even earlier.
Even in the ‘90s, many employers, executives, and even politicians have come under fire for harassment and all the other infractions associated with a toxic work culture.
The difference is that focus has shifted in both social and legal perspectives. Where once people would file sexual harassment lawsuits against an individual in a company, social movements like the recent #MeToo have highlighted the need to look at the bigger picture. Filing complaints and suing individual sexual harassers and discriminators is still important, but now there is focus to look at the bigger picture.
Workplace culture lawsuits attempt to curb the behavior and lack of meaningful initiatives by entities as a whole rather than a single bad behaving employee. These lawsuits are instrumental in ensuring companies don’t just parade bland initiatives and instead truly pay attention to their workplace cultures.
Are Workplace Culture Lawsuits Effective?
According to reports, the bad press associated with the toxic workplace culture at Activision Blizzard has had a massive effect on its profitability and image. The company lost over 2 million players in only a quarter of a year and has overall lost nearly 30 million players within the last three years.
Financial analysts were also disappointed by the sales forecast of the company. Previously pegged at $8.77 billion, company analysts have had to adjust their forecast $8.65 billion instead, a full $120 million lower.
Although this drop in sales and player base are also because of other factors like lack of new titles and bad product releases, it’s not hard to see that the loss of players and income is chronologically tied to the filing of the lawsuit.
The publicity attached to a workplace culture lawsuit can be just as effective a tool to enact meaningful culture change inside a company.
For example, although she herself claims that the show is ending because of unrelated reasons, many have speculated that the conclusion of comedian Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show is linked with last year’s allegations that the set was a toxic workplace. These allegations aren’t helped by the many people who claim that DeGeneres herself was a major contributor to the toxic behavior permeating the workplace.
Having a workplace that is free from sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination is an essential part of any company. Just like worker’s compensation, guidelines and meaningful actions on part of an employer to address these issues help make employees feel more secure and confident about their occupation.
Workplace culture lawsuits are a last resort to force companies to change their attitudes and compensate victims for the behavior they themselves did nothing to discourage.
Only time will tell if companies like Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard and many others truly change their operations to make their offices a safer and better place for employees.