An “alliance” of Activision Blizzard staff have demanded WilmerHale not be the third party auditing the company; in the ongoing sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit.
Staff led a walkout on July 28th, followed by Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick later stating that the company’s initial response was “tone deaf.”
Among the changes, Kotick stated he 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.
Regardless, staff stated they were dissatisfied with Kotick’s response to the lawsuit; stating it did not address several issues they had raised. Now, IGN reports that a coalition of workers from multiple Activision Blizzard studios- the ABK Workers Alliance- have rejected the WilmerHale law firm as the third-party auditor.
The joint letter to Kotick comes from developers at Activision, Beenox, Blizzard Entertainment, High Moon Studios, Infinity Ward, King, Sledgehammer Games, Raven Software, and Vicarious Visions. Together, they reiterate that they demanded the third party audit “be selected by an employee-led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion task force,” and that Kotick’s response did not meaningfully address their requests.
The reason ABK Workers Alliance reject Wilmer Hale on three major points; a conflict of interest, the law firms alleged “history of discouraging workers’ rights and collective action,” and Avakian specializing in “protecting the wealthy and powerful.”
The conflict of interest is due to Activision Blizzard already being a client of WilmerHale. They had hired them earlier in 2021 to “dispute the Diverse Candidate Search Policy proposed by the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund and UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust.”
In addition, they claim Executive Vice President for Corporate Affairs Frances Townsend “is known to have relationships with multiple partners at WilmerHale, including former FBI Director Robert Mueller.” The cited evidence is currently offline at this time of writing.
ABK Workers Alliance also cite how WilmerHale’s website states their services include “advising on union awareness and avoidance.” Under the Executive and Workforce Training the segment explains how their training programs include that; along with “identifying and dealing with sexual and other unlawful harassment, […] dealing with violence in the workplace,” and more.
The Alliance also accuse WilmerHale of using “anti-collective action tactics” when working with Amazon and Uber, and how gaming and media news outlets described them as “union busting;” or otherwise highlighting the union avoidance training [1, 2, 3].
In addition, the Alliance also claims that WilmerHale’s “ideology” has already taken affect. They claim the listening sessions previously announced by Kotick have been reduced in size, and limited access.
The issues with Avakian is described on WilmerHale’s website as “counseling and defending financial institutions, public and private companies, hedge funds, accounting firms, investment advisors, boards, corporate executives, and individuals facing regulatory and criminal investigations and litigation with the government.”
At this time of writing, the cited page leads to a 404 error. Avakian’s profile on the website also does not feature the exact phrases as mentioned above. Instead she leads her department in “counseling and defending public companies, investment banks, asset management firms, accounting firms, boards of directors and individual executives through the challenges of government investigations.”
Issue was also taken with a speech Avakian made while as the Director of the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement; regarding the SEC’s enforcement program.
The Alliance explains how in her speech “all of her significant examples [of her successes] included achievements in favor of investors, retail clients, and customers, but does not once mention employees or laborers.” The Alliance calls for “legal representation that centers on the concerns of our current employees, rather than investors.”
The ABK Workers Alliance calls upon the Activision Blizzard executive leadership team to fully address the list of demands. The alliance state they will not abandon their cause, and that their ranks continue to swell.
The group are also building their own solutions; including a worker-to-worker mentorship program, open listening sessions (which are recorded and shared across the organization to aid other sessions), and community meetings. All of these occur outside of company communication networks.
As previously reported, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing concluded a two year investigation. Their findings lead to 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.”
As aforementioned; staff led a walkout on July 28th. Their list of demands included ending mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, adopting policies to improve representation at all levels of the company, publishing pay data to show women are paid and promoted fairly, and hiring a third party to audit the company’s executive and HR staff.
Sources claimed staff would not be punished for the walkout, and had paid time off. Kotick later stated that the company’s initial response was “tone deaf.”
Along with bringing in a law firm to conduct an immediate review of Activision Blizzard policies and procedures; Kotick stated the company would investigate all the claims, creating safe spaces for Listening Sessions organized by third parties, an immediate evaluation of managers and leaders, compliance resources for diverse hiring, and removing NPCs from World of Warcraft inspired by those named in the allegations.
The staff stated they were dissatisfied with Kotick’s response to the lawsuit; stating it did not address ending forced arbitration, workers involved in the oversight of hiring and promotion policies, greater pay transparency, or employee selection of a third party to audit the company processes and HR.
Further, almost 500 former and current Ubisoft employees announced their support for Activision Blizzard staff in an open letter; calling for new industry-wide rules and processes. Jeff Strain, a former Blizzard Entertainment developer and founder of Undead Labs, recently called for unionization of the video games industry.
In recent news, Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack announced he was stepping down. Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will now take his place as as co-leads of the company moving forward.