‘$18 Million Is Nothing’: Activision Employees React to Settlement

Some current and former workers are disappointed, arguing that $18 million is just a drop in the bucket for a company worth more than $50 billion.
September 28, 2021, 3:33pm
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Image: Tod Seelie/VICE
On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

On Monday, the games giant Activision Blizzard reached an agreement with the US government to pay $18 million to employees who were harassed or faced discrimination. 

In its announcement of the agreement, the company said that it "has committed to create an $18 million fund to compensate and make amends to eligible claimants. Any amounts not used for claimants will be divided between charities that advance women in the video game industry or promote awareness around harassment and gender equality issues as well as company diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, as approved by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission."

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But for some current and former employees, this agreement is not enough. 

A current employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said that the company "is just throwing money to mask a problem without listening to workers' demands."

"They are just going to agree to give money to those who sued, and that's it," he added. "As for workers' demands, the only thing we hear is that we don't hear anything."

Activision Blizzard declined to comment. 

"Apparently the cost of taking billions of dollars in profit by engaging in unfair and illegal business practices is $18M," a former employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told Motherboard. "$18M is nothing. Bobby [Kotick, Activision Blizzard’s CEO] will fire $18M worth of people he doesn't like to balance the books and call it a wash."

The agreement comes roughly two months after the state of California announced it was suing Activision Blizzard for allegedly fostering a "frat boy" culture that resulted in systemic and widespread harassment against women in the company. The lawsuit included several horror stories of harassment, such as male employees going on "cube crawls" while drunk during work hours, seeking and harassing women working at their desks. 

Do you work or used to work at Activision Blizzard? Would you like to share a story with us about working conditions there? You can contact reporter Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, Wickr/Wire apps “lorenzofb,” or email lorenzofb@vice.com

As Motherboard reported in late July, Blizzard employees who were at a cybersecurity conference to recruit new hires asked a woman if she "liked being penetrated" and joked that she did not belong at the event. In another incident, a Blizzard manager joked about sleeping with female assistants during a team's all hands meeting, and added that if they did sleep with them, they shouldn't stop, and that if they did stop, they better have "deep pockets," as Motherboard reported. 

In response to the California lawsuit, hundreds of employees walked out in protest, and then filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the company of "intimidation and union busting,"  

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Monday's settlement resolves only the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

Ruben Holen, another former employee, said he was disappointed too.

“While I am glad that something is finally being done, I don’t believe it is enough. Given that this has been ongoing for well over a decade, I think the settlement is too low, and doesn’t do enough to ensure permanent changes are made,” he told Motherboard. “I hope there are further actions, but I am not going to cheer too loudly over a small slap on the wrist.”

“$18 million is a drop in the bucket and the company couldn’t care less,” a former employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told Motherboard. “Nothing will change until the company is hit in the wallet harder or something else gives.”

For Cher Scarlett, a former Blizzard employee, it is not necessarily bad news.

"I think the settlement is good, and the plans are good," Scarlett told Motherboard in an online chat. "Personally I would prefer if Bobby stepped down as well, and gave the reigns to someone who has never sexually harassed anyone or been connected to all the wrong people, but I know the EEOC will continue to hold Activision responsible for the culture there going forward."

"With our show of strength as a community of current and former employees, we utilized the [Department of Fair Employment and Housing] and EEOC to hit them where it hurts—financially—and we just have to trust that will continue to loom over them using those same entities to give employees an actual safe and healthy working environment," she added.

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After this story was published, Scarlett said on Twitter that she does not think victims should sign the consent.

In an email sent to the whole company, and obtained by Motherboard, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said that "our goal is to make sure that Activision Blizzard becomes and remains the very best example for other companies to emulate." 

"For those of you who have experienced harassment or discrimination and shared your experiences," the email continued, "please know your courage will result in a better, exemplary place for us to foster inspiration, creativity, and the extraordinary commitment to excellence we are known for."

This story has been updated to include Activision Blizzard’s no comment.

UPDATE, Sep. 29, 9:40 a.m. ET: This story was updated to include a tweet from Cher Scarlett.