A new report in the Wall Street Journal says that Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick knew about the sexual assault and abuse allegations at the company but hid them from investors, and even faces some damning allegations himself, including a threat to have one of his assistants killed. In response to the Wall Street Journal report, members of the A Better ABK employee coalition at Activision Blizzard are staging a walkout today, ceasing work and demanding that Kotick, along with Brian Bulato and Frances Townsend, resign from the company.
Two colleagues and I spent months reporting on allegations of sexual misconduct at Activision and what CEO Bobby Kotick knew and did about them. I hope you’ll read the story we just published. I’ll also thread key findings… https://t.co/QoTGrwLEbB
— Ben Fritz (@benfritz) November 16, 2021
The Wall Street Journal story comes after “months reporting on the allegations” at Activision Blizzard, focusing a lot more on the Activision side, including issues at Call of Duty developers Sledgehammer and Treyarch. One anecdote talks about a woman who was raped in 2016 and 2017 by a male supervisor, after which the company reached an out-of-court settlement with the employee. Kotick failed to inform the board of directors of the alleged rapes or resulting settlement.
Details regarding Jennifer Oneal’s recent promotion and subsequent resignation from Blizzard were also revealed. Oneal reportedly sent an email shortly after her promotion to co-lead at Blizzard (which itself was a result of the original California lawsuit earlier this year which forced J. Allen Brack to resign) saying that she had a lack of faith in Activision Blizzard leadership. She recounted her own experiences with sexual harassment and tokenization at the company in years prior, and also revealed that she was paid less than her male co-lead, Mike Ybarra. Yes, even after becoming co-lead following the lawsuit that alleged discrimination, Oneal was reportedly paid less than her male counterpart in an equal leadership role. Oneal left the company earlier this month after just three months as Blizzard co-lead.
Co-head of Treyarch, Dan Bunting, was also named in the report. He was accused of sexually harassing a female employee in 2017. An internal investigation in 2019 recommended he be fired, but Kotick reportedly personally intervened to keep Bunting on. He was “given counseling” and allowed to remain. An Activision spokeswoman told WSJ that an outside investigation in 2020 led the company to decide not to let Bunting go, but the Treyarch co-head reportedly left following the WSJ’s recent inquiries into the matter.
In addition to multiple other reports of discrimination and harassment—including 30 women in Activision esports who alleged harassment, assault, and exclusion—Kotick was shown to have a history of mistreating women. Back in 2006, Kotick settled a dispute out of court after an assistant complained of harassment, including “threatening in a voice mail to have her killed.” The Activision spokeswoman said that Kotick had already apologized for this “obviously hyperbolic and inappropriate voice mail.” The next year Kotick was sued by a flight attendant on a private jet he co-owned. She had claimed that the pilot sexually harassed her, complained to the other unnamed co-owner, and was subsequently fired by Kotick. An arbitrator working on an action related to legal fees on that case cited under sworn testimony that Kotick told the flight attendant and her attorneys “I’m going to destroy you.”
Additionally, the Wall Street Journal report says that Activision Blizzard has received more than 500 reports since the California lawsuit was public, from current and former employees alleging a host of issues ranging from sexual assault, harassment, bullying, discrimination, and other issues. This is despite recent and ongoing assurances from Kotick that he aims to make Activision Blizzard a safe and equal place to work. Kotick also recently lowered his own salary.
There has been a whirlwind response following the release of the Wall Street Journal report. Kotick issued a video to Activision Blizzard employees—as well as an official statement from Activision Blizzard regarding the article—stating that the article presents on “inaccurate and misleading view” of Kotick and the progress they say the company has made.
As Activision Blizzard stock plummets this morning, the company is on the defensive. In a statement to Bloomberg, a spokesperson says the WSJ “presents an inaccurate and misleading view” of the company and Kotick and “ignores important changes.” pic.twitter.com/i37g1U26pv
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) November 16, 2021
Members of the A Better ABK employee coalition have staged a walkout, both digital and in-person at the Irvine campus. The walkout calls for Bobby Kotick to be replaced as CEO, and doubles down on their demands for a less biased third party to perform the review of Activision Blizzard’s internal policies.
We have instituted our own Zero Tolerance Policy. 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.
— ABetterABK ABK Workers Alliance (@ABetterABK) November 16, 2021
The Activision Blizzard Board of Directors issued its own statement in response to the article, standing behind Kotick’s leadership at the company, noting recent progress they say Activision Blizzard has made under Kotick’s leadership.
In response to an explosive story reporting that Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick knew about various sexual misconduct and harassment allegations and was himself a perpetrator, and an employee walkout today demanding Kotick’s resignation, the board says it is standing by him pic.twitter.com/29q5M2VxIH
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) November 16, 2021
The Wall Street Journal quickly shot back that “Nothing in Activision Blizzard’s statement challenges the facts in our reporting.”
The Wall Street Journal has responded to Bobby Kotick and Activision’s description of its article as misleading: “Nothing in Activision Blizzard’s statement challenges the facts in our reporting.”
— Shannon Liao (@Shannon_Liao) November 16, 2021
This is just the latest chapter in a story that began in earnest with the California lawsuit that was filed against Activision Blizzard earlier this year. We’ll continue to update as it progresses.[Source: Wall Street Journal]