A new report alleges CEO Bobby Kotick knew of sexual misconduct allegations within the company for years
A massive new report from the Wall Street Journal today has brought even more allegations to light at publisher Activision Blizzard. It says Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick knew of allegations of employee misconduct, while bringing forward further allegations against Kotick and the company’s internal culture. And now, employees are walking out and calling for his resignation.
The Wall Street Journal’s article highlights several incidents that have reportedly taken place at Activision Blizzard. This includes a former Sledgehammer Games employee who says she was raped by a male supervisor, in 2016 and in 2017, after being pressured to consume too much alcohol in the office and at work events. The employee reported the incidents to Sledgehammer HR but, according to emails, nothing happened. Activision later reached an out-of-court settlement, according to people familiar with the matter, and the WSJ reports that Kotick didn’t inform the company’s board about the situation.
Further allegations point to workplace drinking and a culture with little oversight, as well as allegations of Kotick himself mistreating women who worked for him. Treyarch co-head Dan Bunting was accused of sexual harassment, and the WSJ reports that Kotick intervened to keep him at the studio after an internal investigation recommended he be fired. The Journal reached out to Bunting and Activision about the matter; Bunting did not respond to requests for comment, while Activision’s spokesperson said an outside investigation was conducted in 2020 and that the company elected not to terminate Bunting, but to impose other disciplinary measures. Bunting left the company after the Journal reached out for comment.
In August, Activision named Jen ONeal the first female co-head of World of Warcraft studio Blizzard. The next month, she sent an internal email criticizing the company’s top management and recounting her own experiences of harassment. pic.twitter.com/E0FnfxK5wq
— Ben Fritz (@benfritz) November 16, 2021
One section in particular highlights the departure of former Blizzard co-head Jen Oneal. Oneal was established as co-leader of Blizzard alongside Mike Ybarra earlier this year, following the departure of president J. Allen Brack. Months later, Oneal announced she would be leaving the company at the end of the year. The Journal reports that Oneal sent an email to a member of Activision’s legal team, professing a lack of faith in leadership to turn the culture around. Oneal’s email reportedly says she had been sexually harassed earlier in her time at Activision, and that she was paid less than her Blizzard counterpart.
I encourage you to read the full Wall Street Journal report here, as it’s a lot of reporting done over the breadth of the company.
This morning, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick sent a video response out to employees, which was also posted—in text form—on the company’s website. In it, he says there’s an “article today that paints an inaccurate and misleading view of our company, of me personally, and my leadership.”
“First, we are incredibly fortunate to have the most talented people in our industry all so committed to constant improvement. And I share this commitment,” said Kotick. “The second thing I want to say is that anyone who doubts my conviction to be the most welcoming, inclusive workplace doesn’t really appreciate how important this is to me.”
Activision Blizzard’s Board of Directors issued a statement responding to the article:
“The Activision Blizzard Board remains committed to the goal of making Activision Blizzard the most welcoming and inclusive company in the industry. Under Bobby Kotick’s leadership the Company is already implementing industry leading changes including a zero tolerance harassment policy, a dedication to achieving significant increases to the percentages of women and non-binary people in our workforce and significant internal and external investments to accelerate opportunities for diverse talent. The Board remains confident that Bobby Kotick appropriately addressed workplace issues brought to his attention.
The goals we have set for ourselves are both critical and ambitious. The Board remains confident in Bobby Kotick’s leadership, commitment and ability to achieve these goals.”
Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier reports that Activision emailed employees yesterday, saying they’d get all of Thanksgiving week off; some, according to Schreier, theorize this was to try and boost morale ahead of the Journal’s report.
We have instituted our own Zero Tolerance Policy. We will not be silenced until Bobby Kotick has been replaced as CEO, and continue to hold our original demand for Third-Party review by an employee-chosen source. We are staging a Walkout today. We welcome you to join us.
— ABetterABK ? ABK Workers Alliance (@ABetterABK) November 16, 2021
In response, the ABK Workers Alliance has organized a walkout today, calling for Kotick to be replaced as CEO and continuing to demand a third-party review by an employee-chosen source.
Activision Blizzard has been under scrutiny from several investigative bodies, following the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s suit against the publisher. The company recently announced it would be dropping required arbitration, one of the demands of the ABK Workers Alliance. The workers organization said it was a huge win, but reiterated that there was still more to be done.