Activision Blizzard CEO says response to harassment lawsuit was 'tone deaf'

Bobby Kotick says the company is taking "swift action" to create a safe workplace.

Brendan McDermid / reuters

Following nearly a week of internal unrest, Activision Blizzard has published a letter from CEO Bobby Kotick addressing the company’s original response to the sexual harassment lawsuit brought against it by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) on July 20th. “Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf,” Kotick says in the letter addressed to Activision Blizzard employees. “It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.”

Kotick claims Blizzard Activision is taking “swift action” to ensure a safe, respectful and inclusive working environment for women and other minority groups. The company has hired law firm WilmerHale to review its policies, and Kotick says Activision Blizzard will implement changes to its hiring practices. It also plans to make personnel tweaks and remove content from its games employees and players have said is “inappropriate” in light of the allegations against the company. On Tuesday, the World of Warcraft development team said it would remove specific references from the MMO. While the team didn’t elaborate, those references may involve items and non-playable characters named after Alex Afrasiabi, one of the former Blizzard employees singled out in the DFEH lawsuit for repeated inappropriate behavior.

Notably, the letter doesn’t make mention of forced arbitration, saying only the company “will continue to investigate each and every claim and will not hesitate to take decisive action,” nor does it promise greater transparency when it comes to employee compensation. Those are two issues Activision Blizzard employees who are staging a walkout to protest for better working conditions highlighted in a statement of intent they shared on Tuesday.

In its initial public response to the lawsuit, Activision Blizzard said the allegations from DFEH included “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” In a separate email to employees, Frances Townsend, executive vice president of corporate affairs at the company, claimed the lawsuit presents “a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories — some from more than a decade ago.”