In context: Activision Blizzard has been embroiled in a series of investigations and controversies over the past few months following reports of widespread sexual misconduct and harassment within the company. Several alleged harassers have already resigned, but that hasn't put an end to this debacle. Now, reports claim Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick not only knew about the misconduct, but may have attempted to protect some accused employees from punishment.
This news comes courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, which has spoken to several sources close to Activision, its subsidiaries, and those with knowledge of the company's board of directors.
The article leads with quite a claim: back in 2016, a former Sledgehammer Games employee (an Activision studio) alleged that she had been raped in "2016 and 2017" by a "male supervisor" after being pressured to consume "too much alcohol" in the office and at work-related functions. The encounters were reported to Activision's HR department, supervisors, and even the police, but according to the WSJ, nothing came of it.
Sometime later, Activision settled with the woman, effectively putting an end to that particular case. However, importantly, Kotick failed to report the matter to Activision's board of directors. Other similar incidents also went unreported by the executive, the WSJ alleges.
The allegations don't stop there. Earlier this year, California officially filed suit against Activision Blizzard for harassment, discrimination, sexism, and other problems related to its "frat boy" culture.
In response to the lawsuit, Activision Blizzard exec Frances Townsend penned an email calling the action both "meritless" and irresponsible," claiming that it contained "distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past."
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
At least, we thought the email came from Townsend. The WSJ says it was Kotick himself that penned the response but chose to send it under Townsend's name (presumably to avoid negative PR).
In 2017, the WSJ says Kotick intervened on behalf of Activision Treyarch's co-lead Dan Bunting, who was accused of sexually harassing a female employee in 2017 "after a night of drinking." The outlet claims an internal investigation soon followed and ultimately led investigators to recommend Bunting be fired. However, Kotick allegedly "intervened to keep him," though it's unclear what that means.
There are plenty more stories like the ones we've just mentioned in the WSJ's full report, so if you want all of the context, we recommend reading it. With that said, we should emphasize that these are just allegations for now and should not be taken as concrete facts or outright falsehoods.
Either way, this is a terrible look for a company and a CEO that are both already under immense pressure from the public, lawyers, and regulators. Even Activision Blizzard employees are enraged: dozens of workers have staged a walkout, demanding that the executive be fired from his position.
Activision Blizzard has responded to the WSJ report with the following statement:
We are disappointed in the Wall Street Journal’s report, which presents a misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our CEO. Instances of sexual misconduct that were brought to his attention were acted upon. The WSJ ignores important changes underway to make this the industry’s most welcoming and inclusive workplace and it fails to account for the efforts of thousands of employees who work hard every day to live up to their – and our - values. The constant desire to be better has always set this company apart. Which is why, at Mr. Kotick’s direction, we have made significant improvements, including a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate conduct. And it is why we are moving forward with unwavering focus, speed, and resources to continue increasing diversity across our company and industry and to ensure that every employee comes to work feeling valued, safe, respected, and inspired. We will not stop until we have the best workplace for our team.
While the work Activision Blizzard is currently doing to address workplace inequality is certainly admirable, only the first sentence of this response attempts to dispute the WSJ's claims. Even then, the company fails to offer any reasoning behind its words -- in what way is the WSJ's report "misleading"?
At any rate, we'll let you decide for yourself how to feel about this situation. It's a complex matter, to be sure, and it's perhaps best left to the courts and legal experts to unpack.