SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The maker of popular video games “World Of Warcraft,” “Call Of Duty” and “Candy Crush” is in a crisis. Hundreds of workers at the company known as Activision Blizzard walked off their jobs this week. This followed a lawsuit from California regulators that allege the company’s male employees had mistreated their female colleagues for years, and leadership looked the other way. NPR’s Bobby Allyn joins us. Bobby, thanks so much for being with us.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: You got it, Scott.
SIMON: Tell us more about this lawsuit, if you could, please.
ALLYN: Yeah. So California regulators say inside this Southern California company is just a really toxic work environment. The suit describes so-called frat-boy workplace culture where men would regularly make sexual comments about women. They held these so-called cube crawls where men would drink copious amounts of alcohol and grope female employees. And on top of all of these unsettling allegations, Scott, you know, California officials say women were just paid less. And they were denied promotions over their male colleagues. I spoke to an engineer at Blizzard, Valentine Powell, about this.
VALENTINE POWELL: At least at this point, 10 women that I valued and respected and saw as mentors and loved and cherished at this company have left because they don’t believe it would get better. And I don’t blame them.
ALLYN: And that’s why Powell is one of the hundreds who walked off the job this week.
SIMON: What are they demanding?
ALLYN: Yeah. They’re demanding changes to the culture and pay inequities. You know, this company is 80% male. And workers have said when sexual harassment claims were brought to HR, they weren’t taken seriously. And California regulators found this, too, in their investigation that high-ranking executives even engaged in their own blatant sexual harassment and that HR officials were close to the alleged harassers. Now, Powell told me women at the company felt like they were being penalized for their gender.
POWELL: Women who take time off from work for pregnancy are not supported when they get back. And when they do get back, they find that their careers have been set back by years.
ALLYN: Powell there is talking about women getting demoted and pushed into less technical roles and just watching harassers in the office go unpunished.
SIMON: These are certainly some very damning accusations. And I wonder how the company’s responded.
ALLYN: Yeah. So Bobby Kotick, Blizzard’s CEO, has apologized to employees and says the company’s initial response to the lawsuit where they were fighting back was, quote, “tone deaf.” The company has brought in an outside law firm to investigate the company’s policies. There’s a manager who was named in the lawsuit as being a harasser. That person has been fired. You know, Kotick says he’s committed to long-lasting change and wants to make sure that Blizzard is a more safe and inclusive place to work.
SIMON: And Blizzard has an avid base of fans around the world who certainly love the video games that it produces and presents. How have they reacted?
ALLYN: Yeah, they sure do. So, you know – but there’s been a problem with sexual harassment in the video game world for a very long time, Scott, I mean, going back at least to the Gamergate scandal. These days, gamers are increasingly speaking out against abuse, though. And some now are boycotting Blizzard games and turning to social media and video game streaming site Twitch to say, you know what? We’ve had it with this company.
Liz Tippett, a University of Oregon law professor who studies the #MeToo movement, told me this could be a watershed moment for the video game industry.
LIZ TIPPETT: Customers saying they don’t want to play the games, workers walking out, Twitch streamers saying they don’t want to stream Activision Blizzard games – those things actually could really affect their bottom line. Those are the things that gets executives’ attention.
ALLYN: You know, Tippett says the troubling accusations have created a PR nightmare for the company, to say the least. And executives are definitely in damage-control mode and now vowing to address some of these issues. And workers right now feel like they have some power to actually hold this company accountable and make some changes to the system.
SIMON: NPR’s Bobby Allyn, thanks so much for being with us.
ALLYN: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Facebook to pay up to $14.25 million to settle U.S. employment discrimination claims
Facebook Inc has agreed to pay up to $14.25 million to settle civil claims by the U.S. government that the social media company discriminated against American workers and violated federal recruitment rules, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
The two related settlements were announced by the Justice Department and Labor Department and confirmed by Facebook. The Justice Department last December filed a lawsuit accusing Facebook of giving hiring preferences to temporary workers including those who hold H-1B visas that let companies temporarily employ foreign workers in certain specialty occupations. Such visas are widely used by tech companies.
Kristen Clarke, assistant U.S. attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, called the agreement with Facebook historic.
“It represents by far the largest civil penalty the Civil Rights Division has ever recovered in the 35-year history of the Immigration and Nationality Act’s anti-discrimination provision,” Clarke said in a call with reporters, referring to a key U.S. immigration law that bars discrimination against workers because of their citizenship or immigration status.
The case centered on Facebook’s use of the so-called permanent labor certification, called the PERM program.
The U.S. government said that Facebook refused to recruit or hire American workers for jobs that had been reserved for temporary visa holders under the PERM program. It also accused Facebook of “potential regulatory recruitment violations.”
Facebook will pay a civil penalty under the settlement of $4.75 million, plus up to $9.5 million to eligible victims of what the government called discriminatory hiring practices.
“While we strongly believe we met the federal government’s standards in our permanent labor certification (PERM) practices, we’ve reached agreements to end the ongoing litigation and move forward with our PERM program,” a Facebook spokesperson said, adding that the company intends to “continue our focus on hiring the best builders from both the U.S. and around the world.”
The settlements come at a time when Facebook is facing increasing U.S. government scrutiny over other business practices.
Facebook this month faced anger from U.S. lawmakers after former company employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen accused it of pushing for higher profits while being cavalier about user safety. Haugen has turned over thousands of documents to congressional investigators amid concerns that Facebook has harmed children’s mental health and has stoked societal divisions.
The company has denied any wrongdoing.
In Tuesday’s settlements, the Justice Department said that Facebook used recruitment practices designed to deter U.S. workers such as requiring applications to be submitted only by mail, refusing to consider American workers who applied for positions and hiring only temporary visa holders.
The Labor Department this year conducted audits of Facebook’s pending PERM applications and uncovered other concerns about the company’s recruitment efforts.
“ Facebook is not above the law,” U.S. Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda told reporters, adding that the Labor Department is “committed to ensuring that the PERM process is not misused by employers – regardless of their size and reach.”
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham)
U.S. FCC commissioner wants new restrictions review for Chinese dronemaker DJI
A Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday said he wants the U.S. telecommunications regulator to begin the process of imposing new restrictions on Chinese drone maker SZ DJI Technology Co.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said the agency should takes steps toward adding DJI, the world’s largest dronemaker, to the so-called “Covered List” that would prohibit U.S. Universal Service Fund money from being used to purchase its equipment.
DJI, which accounts for more than 50% of U.S. drone sales, said its “drones are safe and secure for critical and sensitive operations… Our customers know that DJI drones remain the most capable and most affordable products for a wide variety of uses, including sensitive industrial and government work.”
In March, the FCC designated five Chinese companies as posing a threat to national security under a 2019 law aimed at protecting U.S. communications networks.
The FCC named Huawei Technologies Co, ZTE Corp, Hytera Communications Corp <002583.SZ), Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co and Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co.
Carr noted that the FCC has a separate ongoing effort to decide whether to continue approving equipment from entities on the Covered List for use in the United States.
“ DJI drones and the surveillance technology on board these systems are collecting vast amounts of sensitive data-everything from high-resolution images of critical infrastructure to facial recognition technology and remote sensors that can measure an individual’s body temperature and heart rate,” Carr said in a statement. “We do not need an airborne version of Huawei.”
He said the FCC in consultation with national security agencies “should also consider whether there are additional entities that warrant closer scrutiny.”
In December, DJI was added by the U.S. Commerce Department to the U.S. government’s economic blacklist.
In January 2020, the U.S. Interior Department said it was grounding its fleet of about 800 Chinese-made drones, and earlier halted additional Interior Department purchases of such drones.
In May 2019, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned U.S. firms of the risks to company data from Chinese-made drones.
(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Bill Berkrot, William Maclean)
Google announces Pixel 6 phone with new chip, subscription service
Alphabet Inc’s Google on Tuesday announced the newest iteration of its smartphone – Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro – which will be powered by the company’s first chip called Tensor.
The tech giant also launched Pixel Pass, a subscription service starting at $45 per month for U.S. customers that will include the Pixel 6 and access to the premium versions of YouTube and YouTube Music.
Pricing for the Pixel 6 will start at $599, while the Pixel 6 Pro, which includes a telephoto lens and upgraded front camera, starts at $899.
The phones will go on sale at U.S. wireless carriers on Oct. 28.
(Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas; Editing by Richard Chang)
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