Activision Blizzard workers walk out and demand CEO Bobby Kotick's resignation

A new report says Kotick knew about the company's sexual harassment problems for years.

Brendan McDermid / reuters

Employees at Activision Blizzard are calling for the resignation of CEO Bobby Kotick following new revelations into the role he may have played in creating the toxic workplace culture that has mired the company in controversy. On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal published a comprehensive report on Kotick's handling of the sexual harassment lawsuit California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed against the publisher in July. In short, the outlet claims Kotick not only knew about many of the worst instances of abuse at the company, but in some cases, he may have also acted to protect employees accused of harassment.

"We have instituted our own Zero Tolerance Policy," Activision Blizzard employee advocacy group A Better ABK said on Twitter after the report came out. "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." The group plans to stage a walkout today.

The claims reported by The Journal are extensive and numerous, but a handful stand out. According to documents obtained by the outlet, Kotick penned the now-infamous email Frances Townsend, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Activision Blizzard, sent to employees after DFEH filed its lawsuit. In that message, the company said the complaint presented "a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories — some from more than a decade ago." The response drew the ire of many Blizzard employees, who said it was "abhorrent and insulting."

The report also provides insight into the recent departure of Jennifer Oneal. One month after her appointment, Blizzard's first female leader reportedly sent an email to the company's legal team in which she said she wasn't convinced Activision Blizzard would turn its culture around. Referencing a moment earlier in her career at the company, she says in the email, "I have been tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against."

Elsewhere, the report describes an episode involving Dan Bunting, one of the heads of Activision's Treyarch studio. In 2017, Bunting was reportedly accused of sexually harassing a female employee. Following an internal investigation, Activision's HR department recommended he be fired, but Kotick reportedly intervened to keep him at the company.

A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard disputed The Journal's reporting. The company's full statement reads as follows:

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.

The company also commented on the impending walkout. "We are fully committed to fostering a safe, inclusive and rewarding environment for all of our employees around the world. We support their right to express their opinions and concerns in a safe and respectful manner, without fear of retaliation," a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard told Engadget.

Amid the unrest at Activision Blizzard, Kotick has presented himself as an ally of the studio's employees. "Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone-deaf," he said in an email he sent after the Townsend message. In that same message, he claimed he would take "swift action" to create a safe and inclusive working environment. When Kotick later announced the company's new zero-tolerance harassment policy, he said he would take a massive pay cut until Activision Blizzard's board of directors felt he had met the diversity and safety goals he outlined.

Even after today's report, it's hard to see Kotick resigning. He has been with Activision since the early 1990s, and he was the architect of the 2008 merger that created Activision Blizzard. The company's board of directors has also said it "remains confident" in his leadership.

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