Activision-Blizzard’s Bobby Kotick hit with new accusations, Jen Oneal speaks up, employees walk out

Employees are now calling for Kotick's ouster

    
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Oh my sweet summer child, you thought Activision-Blizzard might make it a whole week without another story in its ongoing sexual discrimination and harassment scandal, but it was not to be.

Throughout the entire lawsuit scandal, Bobby Kotick has attempted to project empathy and calm, while allowing proxies to send disparaging emails to employees and contracted law firms to “investigate” and (allegedly, according to the state of California) presided over a company accused of shredding evidence in the lawsuits. However, Kotick was apparently aware of the video game culture that his staff has alternately denied and downplayed and implied is old and specific to Blizzard, as the Wall Street Journal has revealed in a fresh exposé today.

WSJ covers a 2018 lawsuit revolving around a male Activision staffer who raped a female subordinate. Activision settled out of court, but apparently Kotick withheld the entire situation from the board of directors. This new information, along with multiple other documents provided to the WSJ, suggests that Kotick’s insistence that he wasn’t cognizant of the depth and breadth of misconduct going on in the company was a lie. Kotick, of course, has already been subpoenaed in the federal SEC lawsuit over the company’s failure to disclose this type of information.

The most eyepopping part of the piece actually centers not on Kotick but on Jen Oneal, who was appointed to co-lead Blizzard along with Mike Ybarra when J. Allen Brack was ousted from the top job. Oneal told the Journal that she herself was sexually harassed and underpaid for her work.

“The following month, [Oneal] sent an email to a member of Activision’s legal team in which she professed a lack of faith in Activision’s leadership to turn the culture around, saying ‘it was clear that the company would never prioritize our people the right way.’ Ms. Oneal said in the email she had been sexually harassed earlier in her career at Activision, and that she was paid less than her male counterpart at the helm of Blizzard, and wanted to discuss her resignation. ‘I have been tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against,’ wrote Ms. Oneal, who is Asian-American and gay.”

Oneal announced she was leaving her role as co-lead after just three months during the recent quarterly earnings call, prompting speculation as to what caused her resignation, which was buffeted by a large donation from Activision-Blizzard to her activism. We note here that Oneal’s original appointment was plainly a move on the part of the company to demonstrate that contrary to the lawsuit, it does not engage in gendered pay discrimination. And then it proceeded to not pay her the same as her co-lead, thereby demonstrating once more for the record that it is full of shit and also extremely stupid.

Two additional things of note in the WSJ piece. First, Kotick is known for having lost a sexual discrimination lawsuit lodged by his private plane’s steward, but there were apparently other accusations: “Mr. Kotick himself has been accused by several women of mistreatment both inside and outside the workplace, and in some instances has worked to settle the complaints quickly and quietly, according to people familiar with the incidents and documents reviewed by the Journal,” WSJ says. That includes a situation in 2006, when an assistant said he left her a voice mail threatening to have her killed. It was settled out of court; Activision acknowledged that it happened and said Kotick regrets it.

And second, it seems as if the WSJ has confirmed who wrote the initial “distorted and untrue picture of our company” staff email when the California DFEH lawsuit came down in July: Kotick himself. The paper says that according to its source, “Kotick drafted an email that he had another executive send to employees under [Fran Townsend’s] name that dismissed California’s allegations.” He then turned around and called that email “tone-deaf,” thereby throwing Townsend under a bus. Huh.

Activision-Blizzard stock has fallen around 14% following its weak earnings call at the beginning of November; though it had recovered somewhat, it’s down again on the news today, as first noticed by Bloomberg, which notes the stock has lost a quarter of its value since the first lawsuit. It’s unclear what the board will do next; it’s already stripped Kotick of his entire salary and compensation for the year.

If the board is looking for ideas, the A Better ABK proto-union has one: Kotick’s complete removal from his role. The group is planning another company-wide walkout today.

Activision-Blizzard did pen a statement in response to the WSJ’s piece.

“We are disappointed in the Wall Street Journal’s report, which presents a misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our CEO. Instances of sexual misconduct that were brought to his attention were acted upon. The WSJ ignores important changes underway to make this the industry’s most welcoming and inclusive workplace and it fails to account for the efforts of thousands of employees who work hard every day to live up to their – and our – values. The constant desire to be better has always set this company apart. Which is why, at Mr. Kotick’s direction, we have made significant improvements, including a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate conduct. And it is why we are moving forward with unwavering focus, speed, and resources to continue increasing diversity across our company and industry and to ensure that every employee comes to work feeling valued, safe, respected, and inspired. We will not stop until we have the best workplace for our team.”

The whole saga:

Source: The Wall Street Journal. Thanks to everyone who tipped this to us.
Update
Kotick has now shared a message in video and text format with Activision-Blizzard employees. It reiterates points Kotick has made previously in regard to the company’s claimed commitments to improving its culture and refers to the WSJ’s coverage as “paint(ing) an inaccurate and misleading view of (the) company, of (him) personally, and (his) leadership.”

“I want to talk with you today about our future and reiterate my conviction to create the most welcoming and inclusive workplace.

“Over the last few months, so many of you have generously and candidly shared your experiences and your insights about the type of company you want us to be.

“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.

“There will, of course, be continued media attention about us and our industry over the next few months. In fact, there’s an article today that paints an inaccurate and misleading view of our company, of me personally, and my leadership.

“I want to say two important things about this:

“First, we are incredibly fortunate to have the most talented people in our industry all so committed to constant improvement. And I share this commitment.

“The second thing I want to say is that anyone who doubts my conviction to be the most welcoming, inclusive workplace doesn’t really appreciate how important this is to me.

“Creativity and inspiration thrives best in a safe, welcoming, respectful environment. There is no substitute for that. And staying true to our values, without exceptions, is the best way to retain our talent and to attract the new talent we need to achieve our great potential.

“As I have made clear, we are moving forward with a new zero tolerance policy for inappropriate behavior — and zero means zero. Any reprehensible conduct is simply unacceptable.

“We have a chance to further enhance our culture and be the example other companies will follow. And we are so incredibly fortunate. Connecting and engaging the world through joy and fun is a powerful mission. Accomplishing this in a welcoming, inclusive workplace ensures we will achieve our mission with excellence.

“Over the last few years our industry has had an uncomfortable spotlight that’s been illuminating opportunities for us to change. And we must all, including me, embrace this need for change, so we can bring our very best selves to the very best place to work.

“Thank you for your commitment to a culture of respect, your appreciation for the unique talents we each possess, and for maintaining the very best environment for all of us to work.

“For that, I am truly grateful.”

The board of directors has also penned a statement signaling its intent to stand with Kotick.

“The Activision Blizzard Board remains committed to the goal of making Activision Blizzard the most welcoming and inclusive company in the industry. Under Bobby Kotick’s leadership the Company is already implementing industry leading changes including a zero tolerance harassment policy, a dedication to achieving significant increases to the percentages of women and non-binary people in our workforce and significant internal and external investments to accelerate opportunities for diverse talent. The Board remains confident that Bobby Kotick appropriately addressed workplace issues brought to his attention.

“The goals we have set for ourselves are both critical and ambitious. The Board remains confident in Bobby Kotick’s leadership, commitment and ability to achieve these goals.”

The walkout is still happening. WAPO reports it’s a virtual and physical walkout that has expanded to call for more than just Kotick to resign. The company, which as been accused by the state of California of retaliating against workers, promises not to retaliate against workers striking today.

Update
IGN’s article on the Jen Oneal pay disparity situation has more information about what happened based on leaked communications from Oneal and Ybarra in the company’s Slack channel. Ybarra told workers that their pay had been different prior to being made co-leads of Blizzard. “The first time both Jen and I were offered a new contract, it was the same across both of us for the new co-leader of Blizzard roles, so our compensation was going to be the same,” he reportedly said. However, Oneal says that the “new contract” with pay equity wasn’t actually offered to her until after she had announced her intention to quit: “While the company informed me before I tendered my resignation that they were working on a new proposal, we were made equivalent offers only after I tendered that resignation.”
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Josh
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Kanbe

I’m sure the board standing with Kotick has nothing to do with cost savings of not having to pay a CEO for a year.

rafael12104
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rafael12104

Well, the walkout continues today. I work for Activision and this morning before pouring myself a cup of coffee, I joined the rest of my group in another walkout. It is a continuation from yesterday, and there are several opinions that we should not come back until Kotick is permanently replaced as CEO.

It is a strange situation because we are still getting Activision’s full support. HR and Corporate have weighed in and we are not losing any pay, or being docked in any way for the walkouts. In fact company resources are being used to organize, communicate, and continue the protest. It is almost like the company itself is trying to purge Kotick for the greater good.

I’ve never seen anything like this. It is like being on strike fully supported by the company you are striking.

So, on we go… I’m not sure what to expect, to be honest, or how long this will last.

Leyaa
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Leyaa

I wish you and your colleagues all the best! Rooting for you all! Best wishes from Europe. And stay strong!

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Utakata

*Shocked pigtails makes a shocked Pikachu gesture*

…I never would of thought you’d be working for them! o.O

And to make sure that the readers are on the same page here, this from outside conversations I had Mr. rafael that did not indicate any ties to A/B. But to be fair that’s a long time ago…and a lot could of and probably of happened since then. And likely before Cosby Suite shit hit the fan. We’re not on Blade & Soul much these days, I gather. So catching up has been a rarity. But still…goodness. I didn’t see that one coming.

That said though, thanks you for standing for those who could not and still not be able stand up now. The voices should be collectively heard. So I very much appreciate putting your foot forward along with you colleagues here. We can be heroes…

/bows

PS/Personal: I think the UE4 upgrade for B&S sucked Donkey Kotick’s. But we can discussed that another day. :(

rafael12104
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rafael12104

Thanks Uta. Yes, it was not always so. I landed the job a little over a year ago as a consultant, and it evolved from there. And I thought it was best not to announce it as a clarion call. Lol.

My feelings are the same as they ever were. I’m really unhappy with it all. Kotick and JAB are like a pair faulty bookends. Everything falls over when they are near.

And yet, from the inside, as I mentioned, it is almost as if there are two companies. The horror house that Kotic built and this beautiful estate that they employees built. And, as I said, corporate is very much on the side of employees, at least thus far. There are other new benefits to that I won’t detail, but Acti, the company, has seen a marked change in how they are treating employees. And it is so much better than most.

As for BnS, I’ll admit I was excited for UE4, but the changes I am still expecting aren’t there yet. Real open world feel, etc. So I’m disappointed…

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Narficus

It’s as if those actually in charge of making games realized that you can’t make games without the talent to make them – along with all the supportive folks who help make it happen.

It’s about damn time, and this is great news.

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blahlbinoa .

I’m not a huge Blizzard fan, I never liked them and now this goes further into my hate for them. I played WoW off and on and could never get into it. The only game that I enjoyed from them was Diablo. Today I threw away my old Diablo games. I know I can get money from some Copium huffer by selling the boxes, but I don’t care. I tossed them in the garbage where they belong.

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RangerCoder

They need to stop walking about and do a full-time strike at this point, clearly, their CEO is well protected by the board and a huge part of the problem. Blizzard never can be changed unless the CEO and that board get kicked out of the company.

Only stuckholders can make that happen. And they will not as long the stocks prices go down in the ground!

It’s one of those powerful man children that thinks he can keep sending this bullcrap statement and keep in power! It’s time for the employers to fight harder and stop working altogether!

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Alberto

Like most people worried about way back when..Blizzard Died the day they Merged with Activiosn……

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Bruno Brito

Except that Blizzard culture was there before Activision, some of the DFEH investigation points to almost 20 years of harassment culture.

Stop this crap. Blizzard was always dogshit internally, and we need to quit this line of thought that they were somehow beacons of justice and etiquette before the big bad Activision took them over. Two megacorporations merged, nothing less, nothing more. Vivendi wasn’t a bed of roses either.

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Narficus

The veterans know a lot more than that:

Interplay (and surrounding studios, with even some LGBT talent getting in on it – and some who would later become LGBT, right Becky?) Hervé Caen, despite what he’s doing with Earthworm Jim, was/is 1000% worse than the dude the company is demonizing.
id (Oof, Romero. Been paying that back for DECADES.)
Bethesda (The early drafts were much, much darker. Just TL;DR on that one, man.)
Westwood (Think of the different ways you can say “Command and Conquer” for a popular office joke.)
Origin (Duh. SCA culture meats a lot of problems around their surrounding studios’ frat culture . And then especially OSI, including what Jessica Mulligan went through from coworkers.)
Too many UK studios to count, including especially Bullfrog and Lionhead. Peter Molyneux’s physical and mental abuse at everyone is legendary to those who have seen it. Piranha tank. Pellet gun’d interns.

As scummy as they are naturally, EA took a lot of rep hits to cover some controversies so they could still sell some brands. Some, like Origin, were intentionally Google-bombed out from existence in stages.

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RangerCoder

Blizzard was always a boy club from the start when this dev was young they sure loved the ‘smile’ of their first female employer. They call her their little sister… I wonder what happened in that office parties like they told one employer that the blizzard cube crawl is an old Blizzard tradition that goes way back to the early years of the company… and if you talk of creativity I can tell you that they run out of ideas long before big bad Activision …

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Bannex

I like WoW. Please sell the rights to a company that isn’t run by scumbags.

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Rndomuser

Those people on the photos doing these cute “walkouts” with Twitter hashtags… “#AbetterABK!!11oneoneoneeleven”. LOLz.

This company is rotten to the core, including all the board of directors and all other people who make any significant decisions in it. No amount of “walkouts” will change that. If those individual employees really care about how the company treats the common people or care about their own financial future and career – they should not be wasting time on “walkouts”, they should be productively spending time on finding jobs at other companies and changing their jobs as soon as possible. This is the ONLY thing that will work. Especially with the large amount of remote jobs available all across the world – yes, not everyone is qualified for available remote job positions and yes, not every person has internet connection that would work for such job but I’m sure many people in game development can still find such remote job at non-Blizzard company if they would spent few minutes on looking for it.

Oh, and it’s also both sad and amusing seeing how many streamers still support everything this company does. I just looked at Twitch’s directory and instantly saw the “usual suspects” like Soda and Asmongold happily streaming WoW again (Asmon does it under his “zackrawrr” channel). Which is another reason these “walkouts” by individual developers at Blizzard won’t work – Blizzard can fire all these “walkout” people and hire other people who are more complaisant so they can keep selling their products to people like Asmongold who are happily promoting Blizzard’s products to thousands of viewers no matter what Activision Blizzard does with their employees.

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Krzysztof Czajka

I have no idea in what s*ithole you live (probably murica then) but in the UK if you have to leave your work because of the work environment, you’ll easily win the case in the Employment Tribunal. Leaving the job because of the hostile environment is a big no and it’s an equivalent of leaving your flat because your landlord makes your life difficult. Running away from problems won’t make them disappear and you’ll always find people to exploit hence why Blizzard should be held accountable for their crimes. “Work somewhere else if it bothers you” is not a solution.

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Bryan Correll

if you have to leave your work because of the work environment, you’ll easily win the case in the Employment Tribunal. Leaving the job because of the hostile environment is a big no

Those statements seem to contradict each other.

murica

Because the rest of the world is doing great these days?

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KoboldWhite

Well no, murica has successfully ruined it for the rest of us, too. :)

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Bruno Brito

That’s not how it works. I can’t speak for the US, but in Brazil, quitting a job means that you abdicate all the rights you have. What they need to do is unionize and look for lawyers to start going full blown hostile against Actiblizz.

But it’s laughable that you think that everyone has the freedom to quit jobs and not suffer because of it. Life isn’t a walk in the park, specially for people that are victims.

Don’t assume you know better than the victims themselves. It’s a really shitty thing to do.

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Utakata

And when a shit-gibbons enjoys company…

“The board of directors has also penned a statement signaling its intent to stand with Kotick.”

…then they just demonstrated they’re part of the problem along with enabling the problem. The blood of all those that got harassed under Blizz’s watch is now on their hands. Full stop. And in a just world, they should sued out of existence. Just saying.

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Utakata

Edit/Erratum: …they should be* sued out of existence…proper.

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Ken from Chicago

Pink pigtails FTW! 👍

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Ken from Chicago

One might even wonder if the Board was really in the dark about what was going on.

Much like one wondered about the CEO and various VPs and department Heads.

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Bryan Correll

Damn it Uta! Gibbons are delightful creatures and do not deserve to be compared to AB leadership.

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Utakata

For now on I’ll refer to this as gibbons that throw feces. Hence, shit-gibbons. And thusly, not gibbons in general. I hope this clarity will suffice. /bows

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Darthbawl

(jokingly said) As soon as I print up a “Conductor of the Sh*tshow Train” t-shirt for Kotick I’ll be sending it off to him.