Activision-Blizzard workers on Board’s exoneration of execs: ‘The fish rots from the head’

The right time to do this was two decades ago.

Remember last year when Riot Games formed a “special committee” to investigate the sexual harassment accusations against its CEO and then amazingly cleared him and the company of all wrongdoing? The actual lawsuits went on anyway, one of which was settled last year for $100M.

We remind readers of this to set the stage for Activision-Blizzard’s announcement last night, as the company claims in its latest SEC filing that company executives didn’t hide the company’s scandals from the Board and attempts to boil down the mess to “media criticism” that it calls “without merit.” Indeed, it claims “Activision Blizzard senior executives responded in a timely manner and with integrity and resolve to improve the workplace.”

“Contrary to many of the allegations, the Board and its external advisors have determined that there is no evidence to suggest that Activision Blizzard senior executives ever intentionally ignored or attempted to downplay the instances of gender harassment that occurred and were reported. That work also has not unearthed any evidence, directly or indirectly, suggesting any attempt by any senior executive or employee to conceal information from the Board. Outside advisors, after exhaustive review, also determined the Board never intentionally ignored or attempted to downplay the instances of gender harassment that occurred and were reported. The review of contemporaneous documentation and statements by relevant individuals shows that media criticism of the Board and Activision Blizzard senior executives as insensitive to workplace matters is without merit. Activision Blizzard senior executives responded in a timely manner and with integrity and resolve to improve the workplace. While there are some substantiated instances of gender harassment, those unfortunate circumstances do not support the conclusion that Activision senior leadership or the Board were aware of and tolerated gender harassment or that there was ever a systemic issue with harassment, discrimination or retaliation.”

Of course, it wasn’t “the media” floating some catchy narrative about the company’s activities; multiple stockholders and New York City filed actual lawsuits to that effect.

The filing also again disparages the California DFEH (which is one of the entities still investigating and suing ABK on behalf of ABK’s victims) and the mean ol’ press for holding the company accountable for the misconduct it says its executives never downplayed in a sentence that downplays that misconduct. “[I]t must be said that the Company has been subject to an unrelenting barrage of media criticism that attempts to paint the entire Company (and many innocent employees) with the stain of a very small portion of our employee population who engaged in bad behavior and were disciplined for it. Much of this originated with the highly inflammatory, made-for-press allegations of the DFEH.”

Reaction from the community of workers and former workers can best be characterized as channeled rage.

The ABK Workers Alliance (A Better ABK) called the response “tone deaf” and vague, noted that any change inside ABK has come from rank-and-file workers rather than leadership, and chronicled ABK’s falsehoods regarding supposed good-faith engagement with government agencies. Perhaps the most damning tweet is the list of specific employees with specific stories about going to specific corporate leadership with specific sexual harassment examples and being minimized and dismissed if not outright retaliated against, in addition to the namedrop of specific executives whose abuses were covered up for years. We ourselves have covered several of these, including the bathroom peeper incident, during which Activision-Blizzard leadership dismantled evidence of an actual sex crime and shipped it to leadership in another state before eventually cooperating with local police tipped off by an apparent whistleblower. Many of the early articles from the first few months of the scandal include examples and accusations from workers against such notable executives as Mike Morhaime, Robert Bridenbecker, Frank Pearce, and Ben Kilgore, some of whom were referenced in the lawsuit.

“I witnessed it. I saw them do nothing,” another staffer wrote of sexual harassment within the company. “Correction: I saw them try to get the victim fired for making waves. I was one of the people the questioned about it and I reassured them that the victim was in fact the victim. They stopped asking for my input after that.”

“People under several investigations for sexual harassment say they looked inward and definitely didn’t do it. You can trust them, what incentive would they have to lie?” Blizzard’s Valentine Powell tweeted, noting that ABK has still not acceded to worker demands that a genuinely independent investigation of the internal scandal take place.

Of course, the entire premise that ABK execs never downplayed harassment is also undermined by the fact that Bobby Kotick, who literally threatened to have a female ABK subordinate killed on a voice message, is still in charge. It also remains unclear why J. Allen Brack, who was put in charge of Blizzard after Mike Morhaime left, was toppled if executives like him were supposedly blameless all along.

“[T]he fish rots from the head, and has been for the last 30yrs,” ABABK concludes.

IGN’s Rebekah Valentine has an excellent thread up on the vague language used in the document; she also notes the impending shareholder vote, as the company has asked shareholders to vote against requiring ABK to prepare an annual public report about its efforts to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination.

Source: ABK, Twitter. Thanks Dantos and Ken!
Activision-Blizzard is considered a controversial gaming company owing to a long string of scandals over the last few years, including the Blitzchung boycott, mass layoffs, labor disputes, and executive pay fiasco. In 2021, the company was sued by California for fostering a work environment rife with sexual harassment and discrimination, the disastrous corporate response to which compounded Blizzard’s ongoing pipeline issues and the widespread perception that its online games are in decline. Multiple state and federal agencies are investigating the company as employees strike and call for Bobby Kotick’s resignation. As of 2022, the company is being acquired by no less than Microsoft.
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