Despite telling board members otherwise, the Wall Street Journal reported today, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick was not only well aware of reports of harassment and abuse at his company, but also complicit in them.
Last year, California’s Department of Fair Housing and Employment sued Activision Blizzard—developer of World of Warcraft and Call of Duty, with a market capitalization of around $50 billion—for being a “breeding ground for harassment.”
“Female employees working for the World of Warcraft team noted that male employees and supervisors would hit on them, make derogatory comments about rape, and otherwise engage in demeaning behavior,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also said that women and people of color at the company were also discriminated against in hiring and firing and in how much they were paid, and that black women in particular were often micromanaged in contrast to their white, male peers. Since then, numerous stories of harassment at Blizzard, including a story about recruiters harassing women at a job fair, have come to light. Although the suit was settled in September, Activision Blizzard employees say the $18 million settlement would not create the kind of change needed at the company.
Kotick denied knowledge of harassment at Activision Blizzard, and when the lawsuit was first reported he sent an email to employees claiming that the stories represented a “distorted and untrue picture of our company.”
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Documents obtained by the Journal, though, show that Kotick was very aware of the claims. In August, the Journal reported, when longtime employee Jen Oneal became co-lead of Blizzard, she sent an email to the company’s legal team about harassment and discrimination she experienced at Activision Blizzard.
“She described a party for an Activision development studio she attended with Mr. Kotick around 2007 in which scantily clad women danced on stripper poles. At the same party, a DJ encouraged female attendees to drink more so the men would have a better time, according to another person who was present,” the Journal’s report reads. (Kotick told the Journal through a spokesperson that he does not recall this party.)
According to the Journal, Kotick has personally settled multiple harassment cases out of court. One such case involved a former assistant who said that Kotick threatened to have her killed on a voicemail message in 2006.
“Mr. Kotick quickly apologized 16 years ago for the obviously hyperbolic and inappropriate voice mail, and he deeply regrets the exaggeration and tone in his voice mail to this day,” a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard told the Journal.
After the publication of this article, Kotick published a message on the Activision Blizzard website.
“We’ve taken meaningful actions to improve our company and our culture. But there is more to do. To become the model workplace we all aspire to be, more change is required. But I am so confident we will get there,” the message reads. “Anyone who doubts my conviction to be the most welcoming, inclusive workplace doesn’t really appreciate how important this is to me.”
Many of the instances of alleged harassment—and, in some cases, assault—involve employees drinking to excess at work events, in some cases because they were encouraged to do so by their managers. Activision Blizzard told the Journal that it would ban alcohol in the office. More concerning than the overconsumption of alcohol is that Activision Blizzard would point to it as a defense against claims that its employees were harassed and abused. If the CEO of Activision Blizzard can, as the Journal report suggests he did, conceal widespread abuse and harassment in the workplace from his board of directors for years while also himself harassing employees, it remains unclear how banning alcohol—as opposed to making clear that harassment and abuse are intolerable—will solve the problem.
This is a breaking news story; check back for updates.