Activision CEO Bobby Kotick allegedly knew of sexual abuse and misconduct for years

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Following on from the scandals that have embroiled Activision Blizzard since earlier this year, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick has now been implicated in fostering the toxic workplace within the company. This included protecting those accused of sexual harassment, relative inaction in other cases, and even being accused of harassment himself.

The multitude of allegations have come out from reporting by the Wall Street Journal and include:

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  • Leaving a death threat on an assistant’s voice mail in 2006 after she complained he had harassed her. This was settled out of court according to people familiar with the matter.
  • Firing a private jet flight attendant who complained to another owner that the pilot sexually harassed her. This was settled in arbitration for $200,000 and widely reported on in 2006-2010.
  • Overruling a 2019 investigation into Treyarch co-head Dan Bunting to keep him in place, after he had been accused of sexual harassment in 2017. Bunting left Activision once the WSJ reached out for comment on their reporting.
  • Failing to inform the board of directors when a Sledgehammer employee accused a superior of raping her on two occasions. This case was initially reported to HR, then to the police, but was again settled out of court.
  • Being aware of an email from 30 female employees that alleged numerous counts of harassment in Activision’s esports division. Activision state they took steps to provide diversity and inclusion training to the esports leadership team, however Kotick has told others at the company that he was not aware of such issues following the DFEH lawsuit.

Disclosure and who knew what and when are key parts of an investigations into the company by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the regulator issuing subpoenas for documents about the company’s response to allegations that include Kotick’s communications with other executives. This includes deciding whether or not the company was obligated to inform investors, which will decide a lawsuit filed by investors.

The recent leadership turmoil at Blizzard has been highlighted once more. Follow J Allen Brack’s resignation, Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra were elevated to co-leads at the studio, but Oneal has since resigned from her position. Oneal sent an email to Activision’s legal team one month after her appointment stating that she lacked faith in the leadership’s ability to cause meaningful change to the company’s culture, recounting her own experience with sexual harassment at Activision earlier in her career, and that, as an Asian-American and a gay woman, she had been “tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against.”

As Activision has tried to salvage its tarnished reputation over the last few months, Kotick has announced a new zero tolerance policy for abuse in the workplace. Additionally, there is a new dedication to increase the number of women and minorities within the workforce, and the company has highlighted a commitment to equitable pay for men and women performing comparable work.

Jen Oneal states that she was being paid less than her fellow co-lead Mike Ybarra.

Following the WSJ report, the ABK Workers Alliance that formed this summer has called for Kotick’s removal from his position as CEO, in line with the company’s new zero tolerance policy. The group called for an employee walkout, which over 150 employees did – which is quite impressive when working from home is still prevalent.

Meanwhile, the board has backed their CEO in a statement:

The Activision Blizzard board remains committed to the goal of making Activision Blizzard the most welcoming and inclusive company in the industry.

Under Bobby Kotick’s leadership the company is already implementing industry leading changes including a zero tolerance harassment policy, a dedication to achieving significant increases to the percentages of women and non-binary people in our workforce and significant internal and external investments to accelerate opportunities for diverse talent. The board remains confident that Bobby Kotick appropriately addressed workplace issues brought to his attention.

The goals we have set for ourselves are both critical and ambitious. The board remains confident in Bobby Kotick’s leadership, commitment and ability to achieve these goals.

Source: WSJ, GamesIndustry.biz, Activision

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