Around 150 Activision Blizzard Inc. employees walked out of the video game publisher’s Irvine headquarters Tuesday in a bid to press Chief Executive Bobby Kotick to step down, after a report that he was aware for years of sexual misconduct claims and that he has been accused of mistreatment by several women.
“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,” the ABK Workers Alliance said in a tweet.
The Wall Street Journal published a story Tuesday detailing allegations of rape at one of Activision’s studios and said Kotick had been informed of the alleged incidents, which are said to have occurred in 2016 and 2017, as well as an out-of-court settlement, and failed to report them to the board. The newspaper cited interviews, company emails, regulatory requests and other internal documents that informed its reporting that Kotick knew about employee misconduct in many parts of the company. It reported on settlements, including cases in which Kotick himself is accused of mistreatment.
Activision’s stock has lost about a quarter of its value since a California government agency sued the company in July, alleging sexual harassment and discrimination. U.S. securities regulators are investigating and have subpoenaed Kotick, the Journal has reported. The stock fell 6% on Tuesday after the report, closing at $66.14.
A spokeswoman for Activision told the Journal: “Kotick would not have been informed of every report of misconduct at every Activision Blizzard company, nor would he reasonably be expected to have been updated on all personnel issues.” She said Activision sometimes “fell short of ensuring that all of our employees’ behavior was consistent with our values and our expectations.” The story also cited a statement from the board saying it had been “informed at all times with respect to the status of regulatory matters.”
In a public statement, Activision said the Journal’s report “presents an inaccurate and misleading view” of the company and Kotick. “Instances of sexual misconduct that were brought to his attention were acted upon.” Activision said the report “ignores important changes” underway at the company, including a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate conduct. A company spokesperson said Activision supports “the rights of workers to express their opinions and concerns in a safe and respectful manner, without fear of retaliation.”
Kotick doubled down on his defense of the company’s actions to improve the workplace culture in recent months. In a video to employees Tuesday morning seen by Bloomberg, he said, “Anyone who doubts my conviction to be the most welcoming and inclusive workplace doesn’t really appreciate how important this is to me.”
The Activision board said in a statement that it “remains confident” in Kotick’s leadership and his commitment to achieving the company’s goals of inclusion.
The Journal reported that since news of the California lawsuit broke this summer, Activision has received more than 500 reports of “harassment, sexual assault, bullying, pay disparities and other issues” from employees. Kotick was aware of, and at times even interfered with, these reports, according to the Journal. Dan Bunting, co-head of the “Call of Duty” studio Treyarch, was accused of sexually harassing a female employee in 2017. An internal investigation recommended that he be fired, but Kotick stepped in to keep him in place, the Journal reported.
Bunting left the company last week. Treyarch employees were told last week that Bunting was leaving but not given an explanation, according to a person familiar with happenings there. The remaining lead, Mark Gordon, was “visibly disturbed” while announcing the news, the person said.
The report also sheds some light on the departure of Blizzard co-leader Jennifer Oneal, who resigned earlier this month, just three months after she took a leadership role at the company alongside Mike Ybarra. In an email to an Activision lawyer, Oneal said that she lacked faith in company executives’ ability to turn things around and that she was being paid less than Ybarra. She also said she had been sexually harassed earlier at Activision, the paper reported.