- A group of Activision Blizzard employees staged a walkout Wednesday, one week after news that California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing will file a civil suit against the video game publisher over a series of claims involving gender-based pay discrimination, sex discrimination and sexual harassment.
- Using the hashtag #ActiBlizzWalkout, the employees and their supporters announced plans to walk out both virtually and in-person, according to a statement by the employee group republished by fan website Blizzard Watch. The employees listed a set of four demands they said would improve conditions for employees, "especially women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups."
- In an email to employees shared publicly July 27 by Activision Blizzard, CEO Bobby Kotick said law firm WilmerHale would conduct a review of the company's policies and procedures and asked those with experiences regarding violations of its policies, or experiences that made them uncomfortable in the workplace, to contact the investigation team. Kotick's letter did not directly acknowledge the walkout.
California's announcement of the suit against Activision Blizzard created a large wave of public backlash in what may be one of the most notable legal actions involving workplace sex-based harassment and discrimination allegations in at least the last five years.
In its July 21 statement, DFEH alleged that Activision Blizzard "fostered a sexist culture and paid women less than men despite women doing substantially similar work, assigned women to lower level jobs and promoted them at slower rates than men, and fired or forced women to quit at higher frequencies than men." These practices had a particular impact on African American women and other women of color at the company, DFEH said.
DFEH continued in alleging that women at Activision Blizzard were subjected to sexual harassment including groping, comments and advances. In its court filing, DFEH further alleged the existence of a "'frat boy' culture" at the company, one in which executives and team members "engaged in blatant sexual harassment without repercussions."
But beyond the alleged behavior, DFEH's filing contained specific allegations regarding the response of Activision Blizzard's HR operations to these incidents. Despite receiving complaints about unlawful harassment, discrimination and retaliation, "[d]efendants failed to take effective remedial measures in response to these complaints," DFEH said. "Employees were further discouraged from complaining as human resource personnel were known to be close to alleged harassers."
The filing notes that an internal investigation into the company's HR operations revealed a lack of trust in HR among employees, and the agency said multiple employees stated that their complaints were not kept confidential. DFEH said its investigation took place over a period of more than two years and that the parties were not able to resolve administrative complaints through mediation earlier this month.
Activision Blizzard executives' initial internal response to the suit appeared to be to deny the claims. Axios reporter Megan Farokhmanesh posted on Twitter July 23 excerpts of an email sent by Fran Townsend, the company's executive vice president for corporate affairs, which said DFEH's allegations "presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories — some from more than a decade ago."
Later, two former Blizzard executives, Chris Metzen and Mike Morhaime, published statements. Metzen offered "my very deepest apologies for the part I played in a culture that fostered harassment, inequality and indifference." Morhaime, a Blizzard employee for 28 years, offered a similar apology. "The fact that so many women were mistreated and were not supported means we let them down," Morhaime added. "In addition, we did not succeed in making it feel safe for people to tell their truth."
The #ActiBlizzWalkout organizers are encouraging people to signal boost the hashtag as a sign of solidarity while using a ???? emoji. They also support donations to the following charities:— Shacknews (@shacknews) July 28, 2021
@wia_animation @GETWIGI pic.twitter.com/FtsbGARUsd
Activision Blizzard saw protests from consumers and gaming journalism outlets as well as employees during the aftermath of the allegations. In his statement, Kotick said the company's initial responses "were, quite frankly, tone deaf … I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding."
"We are taking swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment," he continued. "There is no place anywhere at our Company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind."
The employee walkout follows similar recent events, including the 2018 walkout staged by Google employees in response to sexual harassment allegations at the company. Activision Blizzard employees made demands that partially mirror those of the Google walkout, including an end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employment contracts as well as the adoption of new recruiting, interviewing, hiring and promotion policies agreed upon by employees.
Notably, in February, Activision Blizzard asked for permission to be excluded from an AFL-CIO shareholder proposal to executives at a number of companies — including competitor Electronic Arts — asking that the companies adopt a diverse candidate search policy. In response to the proposal, Activision Blizzard President and Chief Operating Officer Daniel Alegre told HR Dive in an email that "[w]e don't need the AFL-CIO proposal to reaffirm what we already do — encourage every hiring manager to consider diverse candidates for every position."