Activision Blizzard employees will stage a walkout, prompting CEO Bobby Kotick to announce an immediate review of policies and personnel, in light of the sexual harassment lawsuit.
As previously reported, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing concluded a two year investigation. Their findings lead to them issuing a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for “frat boy” style sexual harassment, which may have led to one woman who committed suicide on a company trip, and discrimination for women being paid less and promoted less frequently and after longer periods of time.
Activision Blizzard stated that while “there is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind,” they felt the Californian report “ includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” An internal email from Activision executive Frances Townsend described the allegations as “factually incorrect, old and out of context.”
In response, almost 1,000 current and former Activision Blizzard employees signed an open letter condemning the response as “abhorrent and insulting.” It also called for official statements “that recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault.”
Now, IGN reports Activision Blizzard employees will stage a walkout on July 28th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. PT. Staff will congregate on the Blizzard campus main gate; as Blizzard staff did during their walkout over the banning of professional Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai for his comments during a tournament in support of the Free Hong Kong movement.
Those unable to attend work are even invited to a virtual walkout from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, sharing the #ActiBlizzWalkout hashtag on social media. The employee demands are as follows;
“1. An end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, current and future. Arbitration clauses protect abusers and limit the ability of victims to seek restitution.
2. The adoption of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and promotion policies designed to improve representation among employees at all levels, agreed upon by employees in a company-wide Diversity, Equity & Inclusion organization. Current practices have led to women, in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups that are vulnerable to gender discrimination not being hired fairly for new roles when compared to men.
3. Publication of data on relative compensation (including equity grants and profit sharing), promotion rates, and salary ranges for employees of all genders and ethnicities at the company. Current practices have led to aforementioned groups not being paid or promoted fairly.
4. Empower a company-wide Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion task force to hire a third party to audit ABK’s reporting structure, HR department, and executive staff. It is imperative to identify how current systems have failed to prevent employee harassment, and to propose new solutions to address these issues.”
Bloomberg and former Kotaku journalist Jason Schreier tweets that “Blizzard told employees this afternoon it will offer paid time off to those participating in tomorrow’s walk-out.” An anonymous source within Blizzard also confirmed the claim to IGN, adding that it is a “strong signal” that the company will intended to work with employees.
Finally, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick issued a statement; thanking those who came forward with the allegations, and stating that “Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf.”
Kotick states Activision Blizzard will be “taking swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment. There is no place anywhere at our Company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind.”
In addition, Kotick has asked law firm WilmerHale to conduct an immediate review of Activision Blizzard policies and procedures to “ensure that we have and maintain best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace.” The team will be led by Stephanie Avakian, a former Director of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement.
In addition, Activision Blizzard will also be taking the following actions;
“1. Employee Support. We will continue to investigate each and every claim and will not hesitate to take decisive action. To strengthen our capabilities in this area we are adding additional senior staff and other resources to both the Compliance team and the Employee Relations team.
2. Listening Sessions. We know many of you have inspired ideas on how to improve our culture. We will be creating safe spaces, moderated by third parties, for you to speak out and share areas for improvement.
3. Personnel Changes. We are immediately evaluating managers and leaders across the Company. Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated.
4. Hiring Practices. Earlier this year I sent an email requiring all hiring managers to ensure they have diverse candidate slates for all open positions. We will be adding compliance resources to ensure that our hiring managers are in fact adhering to this directive.
5. In-game Changes. We have heard the input from employee and player communities that some of our in-game content is inappropriate. We are removing that content.”
The third point may see the departure of human resources staff and Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack; who both allegedly ignored claims of sexual harassment. This led to female employees quitting or suffering involuntary transfers, layoffs, and denial of projects and other opportunities. Human resources also featured personnel who were close friends with the alleged harassers.
The fifth point is in regards to Alex Afrasibabi, the former Senior Creative Director of World of Warcraft. He was accused of hitting on female employees, attempting to kiss them, and put his arms around them. Other male employees and supervisors intervened to pull him off female employees.
World of Warcraft features NPCs named after Afrasibabi (Field Marshal Afrasibabi along with others); with players virtually spitting on the former and otherwise showing disrespect to the NPC. Players have also left toy warning signs reading “Go Away!” around the Field Marshal. There are also other references to Afrasibabi in certain items, quests, and in-game lore.
We shall keep you informed as we learn more.