All about the sexism lawsuit against activision blizzard

State of California sues Blizzard for systemic discrimination and sexual harassment. Meanwhile, there are new statements and revelations.

All about the sexism lawsuit against Activision Blizzard

We update this article regularly with the latest developments regarding the lawsuit. You can find the latest allegations and statements as updates on page 1 and 2. The original situation including the link to the lawsuit can be found on page 3 and the statement of Bobby Kotick on page 4.

—-Update from 19. January 2022:

One day after Microsoft announced its acquisition of Activision-Blizzard, there are still some unanswered questions. One seems to have already been answered internally according to a Wall Street Journal report: CEO Bobby Kotick will likely leave the company after the billion-dollar deal is finalized. According to sources said to be familiar with the acquisition plans, Microsoft and Activision have reached an agreement in this regard.

That means Kotick will continue as Activision chief for a few more months. This is also evident from Microsoft’s official press release, but there are no exact words yet regarding a separation from Kotick:

Bobby Kotick will continue as CEO of Activision-Blizzard. He and his team will remain focused on further strengthening the company’s culture and accelerating business growth. Once the deal closes, the Activision-Blizzard division will report to Phil Spencer, CEO of Microsoft Gaming.

The merger is expected to close in fiscal 2023 in all likelihood, no later than June 2023. Kotick’s departure would also be a soft landing for the CEO financially: under a clause in his contract, he would receive more than $250 million in compensation if he left the company:

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—-Update from 18. January 2022:

There must have been a big shakeup internally at Activision Blizzard in recent months. The Wall Street Journal, among others, reported that. As many as 37 people companywide have reportedly been fired since July 2021 in connection with the abuse allegations. Disciplinary action taken against 44 people. In total, employees have reported more than 700 cases of misconduct and other incidents.

While there were efforts to implement the aforementioned disciplinary actions before the industry-wide winter vacation last year, CEO Bobby Kotick reportedly prevented that from happening. According to people familiar with the matter, the reason he gave for withholding the measures was that it would make the company’s job problems look bigger than they already were known to be. But economic consequences may also have played a role here. A look at the stock price shows the consequences of the past 12 months: Compared to January 2021, Acitivision Blizzard’s stock lost a whopping 30 percent of its value.

Helaine Klasky, a spokeswoman for Activision Blizzard, confirmed the 37 firings, as well as the 44 disciplinary actions. However, the rumored 700 incidents are not correct, nor is Kotick’s instruction to withhold implementation. Among the 700 reports, Klasky said there were also benign suggestions regarding the workplace , and only a small portion of those were potentially serious allegations . They value accurate data and analytics that can be shared.

—-Update from 19. November 2021:

Since the Wall Street Journal report, the situation around Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick continues to worsen. The latest revelations have led to the fact that the critical voices are now also piling up from the industry. A new petition from company employees now calls for Kotick’s resignation.

The petition by the ABK Workers Alliance, a coalition of the group’s employees formed in August 2021, has now already been signed by more than 1.200 employees signed. The special thing about this petition: It is not anonymous, here the people give their name, their position and also the Activision Blizzard studio they work for. The petition demands the immediate resignation of Bobby Kotick and can be viewed publicly.

We shed light on how it could have come to this and what lessons we should learn from the scandal in an in-depth report with expert testimonials:

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Activision Blizzard’s corporate board, meanwhile, shared in its own statement to investors that it remains confident that Bobby Kotick will adequately and satisfactorily fix the problems at the work sites .

But critical voices are also increasing from other corners of the industry, including some very prominent ones: Because both PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan and Xbox CEO Phil Spencer have addressed their staff in internal emails and denounced the conditions at Activision Blizzard.

According to industry magazine Bloomberg, Jim Ryan writes in his email that he is sincerely shocked by the recent reports and that he feels Activision has not done enough to address the deeply entrenched culture of discrimination and harassment . He immediately contacted Activision after the WSJ article and asked how the company plans to address the grievances cited.

Phil Spencer also finds clear words, as reported by journalist Jason Schreier, who works for Bloomberg. The Xbox president writes to his staff that he is disturbed and deeply upset by the terrible events and incidents at Activision Blizzard . He announces that they will look into all aspects of our business relationship with the publisher .

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—-Update from 17. November 2021:

New allegations against CEO Bobby Kotick: He allegedly knew about sexual misconduct cases for years

According to a petition filed on 16. November Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick is said to have been aware of sexual misconduct cases for years. In doing so, the Wall Street Journal specifically refers to an email from the July 2018.

In it, an attorney for a former Sledgehammer Games employee (CoD: World War 2, CoD: Advanced Warfare, CoD: Modern Warfare 3) addresses Activision Blizzard’s chief executive, as rape allegations by the former employee against her supervisor went unanswered even after being reported to HR as well as other Sledgehammer Games executives. She also reported one case of rape to police, according to the WSJ. Her lawyer threatened to sue the company after failing to respond, after which Activision Blizzard reached an out-of-court settlement with the former employee.

According to the WSJ, Bobby Kotick did not inform the board about the incident despite the email. Specifically, the article states:

Mr. Kotick did not inform the company’s board of directors about the alleged rapes or the settlement, people familiar with the board said.

This 2018 case is significant because, according to the WSJ, Bobby Kotick has repeatedly stressed to the board and other executives in recent months that he had no knowledge of many of the allegations. On the other hand, he downplayed. The Wall Street Journal cites anonymous statements from people familiar with both the incidents and their internal documentation as its source.

She says these internal documents are memos, emails, regulatory inquiries and conversations with former employees or people close to the company. And these would prove that Bobby Kotick had probably been informed about more cases than he admitted on the one hand and reported to the board on the other hand. Accordingly, the above case appears to be just one example of many.

Activision Blizzard calls WSJ report misleading

Shortly thereafter, Activision Blizzard also spoke out with a statement that we have translated into German for you here:

We are disappointed with the Wall Street Journal report, which paints a misleading picture of Activision Blizzard and our CEO. Responded to cases of sexual misconduct brought to its attention. The WSJ ignores important changes underway to make Activision Blizzard the most welcoming and inclusive workplace in the industry. It continues to not take into account the efforts of thousands of employees who work hard every day to live up to their – and our – values.

A constant desire to do better has always distinguished this company. That’s why, under Mr. Kotick’s leadership, we have made significant improvements, including a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate behavior. It’s why we are moving forward with unwavering focus, pace and resources to continue to increase diversity across our company and the industry and ensure that every employee comes to work feeling valued, safe, respected and inspired. We won’t stop until we have the best workplace for our team.

Employees call for Kotick to step down as CEO

In response to Activision Blizzard’s official statement, employees called on 16. November call for work stoppage again. The ABK Workers Alliance has also been calling for Bobby Kotick’s resignation as Activision Blizzard’s CEO since the new revelations were made.

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New accusations from the short-lived Blizzard CEO Jennifer Oneal

In August 2021, long-time employee Jennifer Oneal was appointed co-chief executive officer of Blizzard together with Mike Ybarra, after J. Allen Brack to resign from his post as Blizzard studio head due to the allegations mentioned below. According to the Wall Street Journal report, just a month after the appointment, she sent an email to the in-house legal department lamenting a lack of trust in leadership and their competence to change work culture.

In addition, she already wanted to negotiate her termination at this time, as she also said that she had been sexually harassed, excluded and discriminated against. She also describes a 2007 company party that she and Bobby Kotick attended. At this one, according to Oneal and another unnamed WSJ source, scantily clad women allegedly danced on stripper poles while the DJ urged female employees to drink more alcohol so the men would have a better time.

According to the Wall Street Journal, both Bobby Kotick and spokeswoman Helaine Klasky have no recollection of attending such a ceremony. Am 2. November, Jennifer Oneal officially announced her resignation at the end of the year.

Bobby Kotick comments on the accusations

On 16. November 2021, Bobby Kotick has already commented on the allegations himself. In a video message to Activision Blizzard employees, he reiterates his commitment to making Activision Blizzard the most welcoming and inclusive place to work.

He also describes the Wall Street Journal article as a false and misleading picture of the company, his person and his leadership style, and accuses anyone who doubts his beliefs of a lack of understanding of his resolve. You can read the entire statement in the transcript of the video message.

—-Update from 20. October 2021:

More than 20 Blizzard employees fired in wake of harassment lawsuit

In the wake of the sexism controversy and harassment lawsuit surrounding Activision Blizzard, now More than 20 employees fired and 20 others disciplined . That’s according to a Financial Times report that cites, among other things, a letter to Activision Blizzard employees – as reported by Kotaku and TheGuardian.

The letter to Activision Blizzard’s staff also asserts that it would address the issue with renewed urgency to secure the team’s trust to be heard on such matters . The in-house department responsible for ethics and compliance is additionally expanded to create a responsible workplace.

It is not known exactly which employees were laid off. Activision Blizzard refused to disclose to the Financial Times the names of the affected employees. It is only known that no members of management or the company’s board of directors would be affected by the measures.

—-Update from 28. September 2021:

Blizzard to pay $18 million to settle harassment lawsuit

Activision Blizzard will pay 18 million US dollars, to settle the harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This is according to an official press release from the company. The EEOC’s lawsuit was filed on Monday, 27. September 2021 filed, in the afternoon already followed the agreement on the million amount.

The $18 million will be used to create a fund to compensate employees affected by harassment or discrimination. Any amount left over will then be divided among groups working for equality and against discrimination in the video game industry.

In addition, Activision Blizzard promises to "revise its own workplace policies" and hire an outside equal opportunity consultant to report to both Activision Blizzard leadership and the EEOC.

EEOC harassment charge, hit in the wake of a three-year investigation, is just one of several lawsuits against Activision Blizzard. You can read more about all other current developments in our previous updates of these messages.

—-Update from 21. September 2021:

Another agency investigates, head of legal department leaves Activison Blizzard

According to a report in the New York Times, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is now joining the SEC in its investigation of Activision Blizzard. The agency wants to examine how the publisher has handled numerous allegations from employees in the past.

Several members of upper management, including CEO Bobby Kotick, have been subpoenaed by the SEC. The regulator has also requested a slew of documents from the company. This is said to include, among other things, all minutes of board meetings since 2019, several personnel files, and separation agreements between the company and former employees.

This further review will increase pressure on the publisher to bring about a change in its corporate culture. Activision Blizzard itself emphasizes that it will cooperate with the SEC.

There is also news in terms of personnel: The previous head of the legal department, Claire Hart, has left the company after three years and wants to devote herself to new challenges after a short break. Whether their departure is related to developments in recent months is not mentioned in their statement on Linkedin.

—-Update from 27. August 2021:

Blizzard Entertainment decided to rename Overwatch hero McCree, named after former game designer Jesse McCree. After this had to leave the studio in the course of the complaint because of sexual harassment and discrimination, the name is no longer suitable for the character according to Blizzard.

We believe it is necessary to change the name of the hero currently known as McCree to something that better represents what Overwatch stands for.

The name change is said to be part of the storyline of Overwatch. The storyline around McCree planned for September is to be postponed, instead a new map finds its way into the Hero Shooter in September. Furthermore, Blizzard states that in the future they will no longer name characters after employees and will be more careful with references from their real-life environment.

—-Update from 25. August 2021:

There are new developments regarding the sexism and discrimination scandal involving Activision Blizzard. As Axois reports, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) lawsuit against the video game developer and publisher has been expanded.

New allegations by DFEH: According to the story, Activision Blizzard is accused of illegally "withholding and misappropriating evidence" and destroying important documents requested for the investigation, which would constitute active obstruction of the investigation.

Similarly, the DFEH accuses Activision Blizzard of actively preventing employees from reporting problems to authorities, for example. This was based on confidentiality agreements that forced employees to seek solutions only internally with the human resources department for the time being. Real consequences would have been thereby as good as never.

Additionally, the DFEH would not have been given access to records from WilmerHale – the law firm Activision Blizzard hired internally to investigate the allegations.

Temporary employees now also involved: The expansion of the lawsuit also includes that it will no longer only include Activision Blizzard’s permanent employees. Temporary employees who worked for Activision Blizzard only on certain projects or under short-term contracts, for example, are now also part of the lawsuit.

Activision Blizzard contradicts accusations: Meanwhile, Activision Blizzard has commented to Kotaku or IGN on the new allegations and denies some of them. Thus one would have followed "all inquiries" of the DFEH and would have already drawn consequences during the current investigations.

Among other things, there is talk of high-level leadership being replaced, HR receiving "enhanced and improved training regarding the investigation," and zero-tolerance rules against harassment or other discrimination being put in place.

—-Update from 12. August 2021:

Diablo 4 game director Luis Barriga, lead designer Jesse McCree and World of Warcraft designer Jonathan LeCraft are leaving developer studio Blizzard. Whether this is on a voluntary basis is not known. Blizzard writes to Kotaku only that the three developers "are no longer with the company". Two unnamed sources from Kotaku suggest, however, that the developers were fired in the wake of the sexism scandal and lawsuit.

Jesse McCree worked at Blizzard as a lead designer on Diablo 4 and had been with the company since 2005. He appears next to several other Blizzard developers in the photo in the so-called "Cosby Suite". His name also appears in various chat messages about the suite.

Jonnathan LeCraft is also pictured in the "Cosby suite". He has worked for Blizzard and World of Warcraft since 2005 – most recently as a senior game designer. Luis Barriga is not visible in the photo, nor in the screenshots of the chat history. He has worked for Blizzard since 2006 and has been involved in World of Warcraft expansions as well as the Diablo games, most recently serving as game director for Diablo 4.

What does the departure mean for the development of Diablo 4? It is still difficult to estimate. The elimination of two management positions could delay work on Diablo 4. So far there is no official release date for the action role-playing game. Blizzard wrote in this regard in its mail to Kotaku:

We already have an extensive pool of talented developers and have filled leadership positions where needed. We are confident in our ability to continue to provide fantastic experiences for our players and evolve to create a productive and safe work environment for all.

—-Update from 5. August 2021:

Workers from numerous Activision Blizzard studios – including Beenox, Blizzard, Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games and Raven Software – have banded together under the name "ABK Workers Alliance". Together, a long letter has been drafted, addressed to CEO Bobby Kotick and the rest of the corporation’s leadership team. The letter was published in full by IGN.

A brief review: In response to an initial letter from employees, Kotick had admitted that as a company they had not initially responded in the right way. WilmerHale law firm would now be engaged to serve as outside party to draft new company policies regarding the allegations at issue and better working conditions.

But it is exactly this decision that is now the impetus for a second letter to the company’s top management. Because as the ABK Workers Alliance points out, Expressly oppose the choice of the WilmerHale law firm and its principal, Stephanie Avakian. The firm was too close to Activision Blizzard’s management team due to a previous working relationship. In addition, Stephanie Avakian has an inglorious history of "protecting the rich and powerful," he said.

The letter’s authors state that they are already doing what is needed to improve their workplace on their own initiative. These include Mentoring programs among employees, open discussion groups and group meetings. Now, they say, it is time for management to finally do its part as well.

—-Update from 30. July 2021: Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot has responded to the open letter.

—-Update from 29. July 2021:

A recent report from Kotaku sheds some light on the lawsuit mentioned in the "Cosby Suite." more precisely. Leading developers met there for Blizzcon 2013 – apparently to celebrate the toxic boys club culture at the company, which many reportedly didn’t know about, according to their statements.

In addition, Blizzard confirms that a leading WoW developer was already fired last year due to the serious allegations against him and Ubisoft employees show solidarity with the Blizzard movement. They call for long-term changes in the gaming industry.

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