Activision Blizzard has stated that it has fired 20 employees and disciplined a further 20 as a result of harassment and discrimination claims.
In an email update sent to all employees, executive vice president for corporate affairs Fran Townsend stated that the company had received an increase in reports of harassment, discrimination and retaliation and action was being taken on them.
“In recent months, we have received an increase in reports through various reporting channels,” Townsend said. “People are bringing to light concerns, ranging from years ago to the present.
“We welcome these reports, and our team has been working to investigate them, using a combination of internal and external resources. Based on the information received in the initial report, they are assigned into different categories, and resources are allocated to prioritize the most serious reports first.
“In connection with various resolved reports, more than 20 individuals have exited Activision Blizzard and more than 20 individuals faced other types of disciplinary action.”
Townsend also stated that Activision Blizzard was taking other steps to more efficiently address complaints, including:
- adding 22 full-time roles to its Ethics & Compliance team
- adding more ‘Way to Play Heroes’ – employees who help other staff to report incidents – and giving them four extra holiday days a year
- combining its investigations groups into one centralised unit within a central Ethics & Compliance department, which is separate from business units and human resources
- improvements to the Employee Relations Team to make sure they “handle complaints and concerns with the care and attention they deserve”
- working on new materials that document the investigative process and let staff who report misconduct know what to expect during the investigation process
- tripling investment in training resources
“We are committed to making meaningful and positive change, and this is just the start,” Townsend told staff. “We will be sharing additional updates in the coming weeks and months. We know there is always more work to do. We are committed to continuing that work.
“Please continue to share your ideas and suggestions, in whatever ways you want to send them. We will work hard every day to earn your trust and confidence. Together, let’s ensure that we always have a safe, inclusive, and ethical workplace that makes us all proud.”
Activision Blizzard has been juggling numerous lawsuits this year as it continues to face scrutiny for alleged sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
The first notable example of these was a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) in July, which accused the company of failure to handle sexual harassment and discrimination against female employees.
The suit says the DFEH “found evidence” that the company “discriminated against female employees in terms and conditions of employment, including compensation, assignment, promotion, termination, constructive discharge and retaliation,” and that “female employees were subject to sexual harassment”.
The DFEH updated its lawsuit in August to add allegations that the company had shredded documents relating to the case and was now interfering with the department’s mandate to investigate the accusations.
The updated complaint also accused Activision Blizzard of taking “adverse actions aimed at curtailing employee rights in this government enforcement action”.
This claim was reinforced in mid-September when a number of Activision Blizzard employees teamed up with a media labour union to accuse the company of ‘union busting’ and worker intimidation.
The Communications Workers of America filed a complaint with the NLRB, alleging that Activision has violated federal labour law by coercing its employees into keeping quiet about ongoing investigations, including the DFEH’s lawsuit.
US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also has its own ongoing investigation into Activision Blizzard’s handling of sexual misconduct and discrimination allegations, with the company’s CEO Bobby Kotick being subpoenaed as part of this.
In early August it was announced that Blizzard president J. Allen Brack – one of the few people actually named in the lawsuit and accused of failing to take appropriate action – would be leaving the company “to pursue new opportunities”, with Jennifer Oneal and Mike Ybarra replacing him as the new co-leads of Blizzard.
Kotick then claimed during an earnings call that the company will “set the example” on how to handle sexual harassment and discrimination in the games industry.
However, a week later SOC Investment Group, which owns shares in Activision Blizzard, sent a letter to the company’s lead independent director stating that CEO Bobby Kotick‘s response to the lawsuit and its subsequent employee backlash does “not go nearly far enough” to address the issues involved.
Last month Activision responded to another lawsuit alleging harassment and discrimination by immediately offering to settle it for $18 million.
The US government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit on Monday alleging that “there have been instances where defendants Activision Blizzard Inc, Blizzard Entertainment Inc, Activision Publishing Inc, King.com Inc and their subsidiaries have subjected a class of individuals to sexual harassment, to pregnancy discrimination and/or to related retaliation”.
Rather than fighting the suit, Activision instead issued a press release later in the day stating that it had “reached an agreement with the EEOC to settle claims and to further strengthen policies and programs to prevent harassment and discrimination in the company’s workplace”.