The new allegations include Kotick knowing about many incidents of abuse and failing to notify the board of directors or investors, and vouched to keep accused staff on board. While leaving Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack was replaced by Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, it was also recently claimed Oneal was paid less than Ybarra, and had been sexually harassed while at Activision.
There were also allegations of Kotick’s own harassment. In 2006 he allegedly left a threatening voice mail to an assistant, saying he would have her killed. The matter was allegedly settled out of court, and a spokesperson stated he deeply regretted the “obviously hyperbolic and inappropriate” message.
Speaking to The Washington Post, Activision Blizzard stated they were “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.”
The ABK Workers Alliance- a coalition of workers from multiple Activision Blizzard studios who previously demanded WilmerHale not be the third party auditing the company- have made their demands for Kotick to be ousted as CEO.
“We have instituted our own Zero Tolerance Policy,” the group tweeted; referencing Koticks own recent efforts along with diverse hiring goals and reducing his compensation to the legal minimum. “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.”
However the board of directors, despite allegedly having not been notified by Kotick over past incidents, are not prepared to do so. In a recent statement, the directors jointly stated their confidence in Kotick’s ability to make Activision Blizzard “the most welcoming and inclusive company in the industry.”
The board notably stated they remained confident that Kotick “appropriately addressed workplace issues brought to his attention,” along with his “leadership, commitment and ability to achieve these goals.” The ABK denounced this, tweeting the board were “just as complicit if they let this slide.”
According to Senior UI Engineer Valentine Powell, over 150 staff have walked out; along with “a lot more participating remotely.” The Washington Post reports 110 of those are gathered outside Blizzard Entertainment’s offices, and at least 50 Activision Blizzard employees walking out remotely. According to some staff, even family members of employees took part.
Senior Battle.net Test Analyst Jessica Gonzalez stated to the Washington Post “We all think Bobby’s not leading like he should be leading. He’s trying to do the minimum possible to get people off his back. I just don’t feel that he’s in touch with game development and having this weird crunch and exploitation of labor in this industry, it’s just not how you make a good product.”
UPDATE: The Washington Post reports that shareholders, total of 4.8 million shares between them, are calling for Kotick to resign, along with two directors of the board. Led by the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC) Investment Group, the shareholders sent a joint letter to the directors.
“In contrast to past company statements, CEO Bobby Kotick was aware of many incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender discrimination at Activision Blizzard, but failed either to ensure that the executives and managers responsible were terminated or to recognize and address the systematic nature of the company’s hostile workplace culture.”
The shareholders are also calling for two of the longest serving directors to resign by December 31st; Brian Kelly (chairman of the board of directors) and Robert Morgado (lead independent director). Should none of them resign, they would vote for a reelection of the board of directors at the next annual shareholder meeting in June, and others to do so.
SOC executive director Dieter Waizenegger told the Washington Post that Kelly and Morgago would likely be replaced with diverse directors, with at least one seat to go to an Activision Blizzard employee who is not an executive.
“Votes against directors are very rare. Investors rarely take this step. You need to have a clear governance failure,” Waizenegger said. “And now we believe, we can point to not only an overpaid CEO, but we have very clear implications for recruiting talent at the company, and potential legal ramifications, with regulators like the California agency and the Securities and Exchange Commission.”
“That’s an indication that something went very wrong,” Waizenegger concluded.
As previously reported, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) concluded a two year investigation. Their findings lead to a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for “frat boy” style sexual harassment; possibly leading to one woman committing suicide on a company trip. Other claims include discrimination by women being paid less, promoted less frequently, and after longer periods of time.
While initially dismissed by Activision Blizzard as including “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past,” and “factually incorrect, old and out of context,” almost 1,000 current and former Activision Blizzard employees signed an open letter condemning the response as “abhorrent and insulting.” Staff led the first walkout soon after.
Kotick stated that the company’s initial response was “tone deaf,” and announced they were bringing in law firm WilmerHale to conduct an immediate review of their policies and procedures. While announcing third party evaluations, diverse hiring, and removing references to accused developers from their games; employees were dissatisfied with the response for not addressing their demands.
As aforementioned, an “alliance” of Activision Blizzard staff also rejected WilmerHale as the third party auditing the company. This was due to an alleged conflict of interest, the law firms alleged “history of discouraging workers’ rights and collective action,” and being led by Stephanie Avakian; allegedly specializing in “protecting the wealthy and powerful.”
Claims from temporary workers were added to the lawsuit; along with allegations of Activation Blizzard destroying documents relating to employees and pay.
After an $18 million USD settlement deal with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the DFEH objected for it being too lenient, and would hinder their own case as relevant documents were proposed to be destroyed. However, the EEOC claimed there was a conflict of interest thanks to two DFEH attorneys having worked for the EEOC; putting both cases in jeopardy.
Most recently, Kotick announced a zero-tolerance harassment policy and diverse hiring goals for the company; while also reducing his own compensation to its legal minimum.