Activision Blizzard, the publisher behind World of Warcraft, Diablo and Call of Duty, is being sued by The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing following a two-year investigation into the company’s alleged discrimination against female employees.
The suit claims that Activision Blizzard fosters a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ culture”, with female employees at the company subjected to constant sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, as well as lower pay and lower opportunity levels than their male peers.
Below, we’ve put together a timeline of the key developments since the Activision Blizzard lawsuit was filed, with most recent updates listed first, to help give you the full picture of the actions and statements of the publisher. We will update this timeline as more details emerge.
Content warning: the article below contains information that some readers may find upsetting including mentions of suicide, discrimination sexual harassment and assault.
September 14 - Activision Blizzard employees accuse company of union busting
Vice has reported that Activision Blizzard employees have filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the company of "intimidation and union busting."
They allege that "Activision Blizzard management is using coercive tactics to attempt to prevent its employees from exercising their rights to stand together and demand a more equitable, sustainable, and diverse workplace."
In a marked deterioration of relations, the employees' charging document says that "within the last six months the above named employer has repeatedly engaged in unlawful conduct by threatening employees," and that strict social media rules were put in place, allegedly to stop employees from posting about "wages, hours, and working conditions," or investigations about them.
On Twitter, the ABK Workers Alliance posted what the employees hope to see from the charge:
If the NLRB rules in our favor, the ruling will be retroactive and we will set a precedent that no worker in the US can be intimidated out of talking about forced arbitration.September 14, 2021
September 14 - Activision Blizzard hires new HR boss
On the same day that the National Labor Relations Board charge was made public, Activision Blizzard posted a statement announcing that Julie Hodges has been recruited as Chief People Officer, effective September 21. Hodges' previous role was at Disney, where she was Senior Vice President, Corporate HR and Compensation, Benefits and Talent Acquisition.
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said of the hiring that "I can't think of a better person to join our team and help lead our ongoing commitment to an inclusive workplace... Julie is the seasoned leader we need to ensure we are the most inspiring, equitable and emulated entertainment company in the world."
Hodges, who worked at Disney for 32 years, also released a statement saying that "A workforce where everyone feels valued is critical to the success of our business, as is a trusting, engaging and safe environment that encourages creativity and innovation and in which all employees can thrive," and that "I’m looking forward to ensuring that we support the diversity of our talent to bring our people together and continue creating amazing entertainment."
August 26 and 27 - References to developers removed from World of Warcraft and Overwatch
Activision Blizzard has removed references in its games to developers named in California's DFEH lawsuit against the company. As PC Gamer reports, the Overwatch character McCree, who is named after Diablo 4 lead level designer Jesse McCree, will be renamed.
Jesse McCree left Activision Blizzard on August 11 (see our post below).
In a tweet, the Overwatch team explained that "As we continue to discuss how we best live up to our values and to demonstrate our commitment to creating a game world that reflects them, we believe it’s necessary to change the name of the hero currently known as McCree to something that better represents what Overwatch stands for."
It also announced that a narrative arc planned for September would be delayed until later in the year, due to the McCree character being a "key part."
A message from the Overwatch team. pic.twitter.com/2W3AV7Pv6XAugust 26, 2021
The next day, the World of Warcraft team announced that the Shadowlands Update 9.15 will "improve the game environment for our community, including additional changes to some content to better reflect our shared values, better visibility into the impact of your in-game reports of harassment, and more serious penalties for people engaged in disruptive behavior."
An update from the #Warcraft dev team. pic.twitter.com/afjFCPUXoWAugust 27, 2021
The announcement didn't go into specifics, but in an email to PC Gamer, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson confirmed that "the in-game references to Jesse McCree, Luis Barriga, and Jon LeCraft will be removed from World of Warcraft."
These are all devs that have been mentioned in the ongoing lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. As PC Gamer explains, McCree has five NPCs and a city named after him, Barriga has an NPC, Senior Scrivener Barriga, named after him, and LeCraft has several references in the game as well. These will all presumably be changed.
August 11 - Activision Blizzard confirms departure of Diablo 4 director and lead designer
Kotaku reports that Diablo 4 director, Luis Barriga, and lead designer, Jesse McCree, are no longer working at Activision Blizzard. In addition, the report claims that World of Warcraft designer Jonathan LeCraft is no longer employed at the company.
Activision Blizzard confirms these departures in a statement to Kotaku, which reads as follows:
“We can confirm Luis Barriga, Jesse McCree, and Jonathan LeCraft are no longer with the company.
“We have a deep, talented roster of developers already in place and new leaders have been assigned where appropriate. We are confident in our ability to continue progress, deliver amazing experiences to our players, and move forward to ensure a safe, productive work environment for all.”
Activision Blizzard does not confirm a reason for these departures.
August 5 - SOC Investment Group issues letter to Activision Blizzard
Activision Blizzard shareholder, SOC Investment Group, issues a letter to the company stating that the steps Activision Blizzard has announced it is taking in response to the lawsuit "do not go nearly far enough to address the deep and widespread issues with equity, inclusion, and human capital management at the company".
Shared with Axios, the letter is sent by SOC Investment Group's Executive Director Dieter Waizeneggar and is addressed to Robert J. Morgado, Lead Independent Director at Activision Blizzard. The letter reads as follows:
"While we appreciate the improved tone and increased detail in CEO Kotick’s recent letter to Activision Blizzard employees, customers, and shareholders,1 the changes Mr. Kotick has announced do not go nearly far enough to address the deep and widespread issues with equity, inclusion, and human capital management at the company. To wit:
"• No changes have been announced or proposed that would in any way alter the current process for filling vacancies either to the board of directors or to senior management.
"• No changes have been announced with respect to executive pay, either with respect to clawing back compensation from executives who are found to have engaged in or enabled abusive practices, or to align executives with the equity goals Mr. Kotick articulated.
"• The announced review by Wilmer Hale is deficient in a number of ways: this firm has a sterling reputation as a defender of the wealthy and connected, but it has no track record of uncovering wrongdoing, the lead investigator does not have in-depth experience investigating workplace harassment and abuse, and the scope of the investigation fails to address the full range of equity issues Mr. Kotick acknowledges.
"We believe that to ensure smooth operations and a strong reputation going forward, Activision Blizzard should commit to the following changes:
"• Increase board diversity and equity by adding a woman director – preferably one with a history of advocacy for marginalized people and communities - by the end of 2021, committing to gender-balance on the board by 2025, and reserving at least one board seat for a nominee selected by current employees as their representative.
"• Claw back bonuses from executives found to have engaged in or enabled abusive behavior, award no bonuses for 2021, and make future bonus awards contingent on the company as a whole achieving clearly articulated and independently verified milestones for diversity and equity.
"• Undertake a company-wide Equity Review, similar to the Racial Equity Reviews that Facebook, Air B&B, Starbucks, and BlackRock have completed or promised, but that will encompass the full range of concerns (including inequities rooted in gender, gender-identity, sexuality, and race) articulated by Mr. Kotick, Activision Blizzard employees, and customers: equity and representation issues in game design, the development process, and in user forums and similar settings.
"The SOC Investment Group, formerly known as CtW Investment Group, is an Activison Blizzard shareholder and works with pension funds sponsored by unions affiliated with the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of four unions representing more than four million members, to enhance long term shareholder value through active ownership. These funds have over $250 billion in assets under management and are also substantial Activision Blizzard shareholders.
Diversity and Equity on the Board of Directors
"Currently, Activision Blizzard’s ten-member board of directors includes only two women and one person of color. Consequently, Activision Blizzard is behind the average for both the S&P 500 and the Fortune 500 with respect to women directors, and would also need to add one woman to its board by the end of 2021 to comply with California’s SB-826. Furthermore, four current directors have served for well over ten years, while four more will have reached ten years of service by 2025. As many institutional investors have recognized that director independence wanes with long board service, shareholders increasingly call on boards to refresh their composition by replacing directors after they have completed a decade on the board. Finally, none of the current directors appears to have working experience as a game designer, coder, or tester. But as current events clearly demonstrate, the board’s lack of such experience has left it struggling to respond to a burgeoning crisis that all indications suggest has been building for some time. By requiring the Nominating and Governance Committee to nominate an employee designated by Activision Blizzard’s workforce to serve as a representative director, the board would both demonstrate to the entire Activision Blizzard team that their views are important and will be heard at the highest level of the company, and ensure that the board will not be caught out in similar fashion in the future.
Align Executive Pay With Diversity and Equity Commitments
"As we have relayed in a number of previous communications, we do not believe that the board and its Compensation Committee have been appropriately designing and awarding bonuses in the recent past. We believe that the recent vote on Activision Blizzard’s “Say on Pay” proposal demonstrates that we are far from the only shareholders taking this view. In light of the evident, widespread, and to date unaddressed problem of sexual harassment at the company, as well as the excessive bonus awards in the recent past, we believe that no bonuses should be awarded to executives for the current year. Additionally, Activision Blizzard should ensure that its pay practices align with its equity and diversity goals by adopting a policy that it will not award bonuses to executives unless independently verified diversity and equity milestones have been achieved.
A Comprehensive Equity Review Led By Investigators With Relevant Experience
"In addition to acknowledging the tone deaf character of the company’s initial response to the State of California suit, Mr. Kotick’s letter described an investigation for which the law firm Wilmer Hale has been retained, and which will be led by Stephanie Avakian, former Chief of Enforcement for the SEC. While we certainly agree that a comprehensive examination of harassment allegations did not take place previously and is imperative now, and further agree with Mr. Kotick that other aspects of Activision Blizzard’s operations, such as inappropriate in-game content, need to be addressed, we are unconvinced that either Ms. Avakian or Wilmer Hale are the appropriate partners in this process. As Ms. Avakian’s numerous public biographies attest, she has had a distinguished career as a corporate defense attorney and in enforcing securities law. Unfortunately, she appears to have had no experience investigating or prosecuting allegations of abuse, harassment, or discrimination. Moreover, Wilmer Hale has a sterling reputation in the corporate criminal defense and lobbying worlds, but little track record as an advocate for the abused, harassed, or discriminated against.
"Given that several major corporations, including Facebook, Airbnb, Starbucks, and BlackRock have undertaken or committed to what has been variously described as a racial equity, civil rights, or human rights audit, we believe that counsel with much more directly relevant investigatory experience is readily available, and would be much more likely to reassure Activision Blizzard employees that their experiences will be heard and honestly presented to the board and senior management. Activision Blizzard should retain such expertise to conduct its own equity audit that would extend beyond the confines of reporting and compliance and address the full range of equity issues affecting Activision Blizzard’s workplaces, operations, games, and user communities.
"At this critical juncture in Activision Blizzard’s history, we urge you and the board to push beyond the inadequate response from management and take the steps necessary to protect our investment from the financial, operational, and reputational risks that have come to the fore over the past week. We would be happy to discuss our concerns and proposals at your convenience."
August 3 - Investor files class action lawsuit
As reported by Bloomberg Law, an Activision Blizzard investor files a class-action lawsuit against the company for "violations of the federal securities law". Specifically named in the suit are Activision Blizzard’s CEO Bobby Kotick, Chief Financial Officer Dennis Durkin, and former Chief Financial Officer Spencer Neumann.
The suit claims that Activision Blizzard was not transparent with shareholders about The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing's two-year investigation into the company, which serves as evidence in the agency's suit against Activision Blizzard. The suit claims that, as a result, shareholders suffered monetary damages when the suit was filed and share prices for Activision Blizzard suffered a "precipitous decline in the market value".
The filing states the following:
"This is a class action on behalf of persons or entities who purchased or otherwise acquired publicly traded Activision Blizzard securities between August 4, 2016 and July 27, 2021, inclusive (the “Class Period”). Plaintiff seeks to recover compensable damages caused by Defendants’ violations of the federal securities laws under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”)."
The suit includes excerpts from Activision Blizzard 10-K reports between 2016 and 2021, which include disclosures about "routine" legal claims. In reference to these claims, the suit claims:
"The statements contained in ¶¶16-30 were materially false and/or misleading because they misrepresented and failed to disclose the following adverse facts pertaining to the Company’s business, operations and prospects, which were known to Defendants or recklessly disregarded by them. Specifically, Defendants made false and/or misleading statements and/or failed to disclose that:
"(1) Activision Blizzard discriminated against women and minority employees;
"(2) Activision Blizzard fostered a pervasive “frat boy” workplace culture that continues to thrive;
"(3) numerous complaints about unlawful harassment, discrimination, and retaliation were made to human resources (“HR”) personnel and executives which went unaddressed;
"(4) the pervasive culture of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation would result in serious impairments to Activision Blizzard’s operations;
"(5) as a result of the foregoing, the Company was at greater risk of regulatory and legal scrutiny and enforcement, including that which would have a material adverse effect;
"(6) Activision Blizzard failed to inform shareholders that the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) had been investigating Activision Blizzard for harassment and discrimination; and
"(7) as a result, Defendants’ statements about Activision Blizzard’s business, operations, and prospects, were materially false and misleading and/or lacked a reasonable basis at all relevant times."
The suit states:
"Defendants acted with scienter in that they knew that the public documents and statements issued or disseminated in the name of Activision Blizzard were materially false and misleading; knew that such statements or documents would be issued or disseminated to the investing public; and knowingly and substantially participated, or acquiesced in the issuance or dissemination of such statements or documents as primary violations of the securities laws. These Defendants by virtue of their receipt of information reflecting the true facts of Activision Blizzard, their control over, and/or receipt and/or modification of Activision Blizzard’s allegedly materially misleading statements, and/or their associations with the Company which made them privy to confidential proprietary information concerning Activision Blizzard, participated in the fraudulent scheme alleged herein."
The suit continues:
"As a result of the foregoing, the market price of Activision Blizzard securities was artificially inflated during the Class Period. In ignorance of the falsity of Defendants’ statements, Plaintiff and the other members of the Class relied on the statements described above and/or the integrity of the market price of Activision Blizzard securities during the Class Period in purchasing Activision Blizzard securities at prices that were artificially inflated as a result of Defendants’ false and misleading statements."
"Had Plaintiff and the other members of the Class been aware that the market price of Activision Blizzard securities had been artificially and falsely inflated by Defendants’ misleading statements and by the material adverse information which Defendants did not disclose, they would not have purchased Activision Blizzard securities at the artificially inflated prices that they did, or at all.
"As a result of the wrongful conduct alleged herein, Plaintiff and other members of the Class have suffered damages in an amount to be established at trial."
August 3 - Bloomberg reports Blizzard's Senior Vice President of HR has left the company
August 3 - Activision Blizzard second-quarter 2021 financial results press release includes statement
A press release issued following Activision Blizzard's second-quarter earnings call includes a section titled 'Commitment to a Safe Working Environment'. The section includes a statement from Activision Blizzard, which reads as follows:
"Following serious allegations regarding the company’s employment, compensation and workplace practices, Activision Blizzard is taking swift action to ensure a safe and welcoming work environment for all employees. We have engaged a law firm to conduct a review of our policies and procedures to ensure that we have and maintain best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace. We will be adding additional staff to our Compliance and Employee Relations teams, strengthening our capabilities in investigating employee concerns. We are creating safe spaces, moderated by third parties, for employees to speak out and share areas for improvements. We will be evaluating managers and leaders across the company with respect to their compliance with our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences. And we will be adding resources to ensure and enhance our consideration of diverse candidate slates for all open positions. The leadership of the company is committed to creating the most welcoming, comfortable, and safe culture possible."
August 3 - Activision Blizzard CEO issues statement during second-quarter earnings call
At the beginning of Activision Blizzard's second-quarter earnings call, CEO Bobby Kotick issues the following statement addressing the lawsuit:
"I want to start by making clear to everyone that there is no place at our company where discrimination, harassment or unequal treatment of any kind will be tolerated nowhere. We so appreciate the current and former employees who have come forward in past and recent days with courage.
"And I want to reiterate the commitments we have made to you. Our work environment everywhere we operate will not permit discrimination, harassment or unequal treatment. We will be the company that sets the example for this in our industry. While we’ve taken many steps towards this objective already, today, we are taking even more. Jennifer Oneal and Mike Ybarra have been named new co-leads of Blizzard.
"Jen has been with the company for 18 years. She’s the former head of our studio Vicarious Visions and most recently had production and development oversight for our Diablo and Overwatch franchises. Mike has been in our industry for over 20 years, including leadership roles within Microsoft Xbox division and at Blizzard as General Manager of Battle.net.
"I’m also pleased to have Allen Adham here today. As most of you know, Allen is one of the founders of Blizzard. After a 12-year hiatus, Allen returned to Blizzard to lead our new product and new IP incubation efforts. Each of these individuals brings vast industry experience and tremendous integrity to their roles. They are the very best examples of leadership with character and accountability. I’m confident this team will ensure that Blizzard provides the welcoming, comfortable and safe workplace that is essential to foster creativity and inspiration.
"In addition, we’ll continue to investigate each and every claim and complaint that we receive. When we learn of shortcomings, we will take decisive action. And to strengthen our capabilities in this area, we’ll be adding additional staff and resources. People will be held accountable for their actions. That commitment means that we will not just terminate employees where appropriate, but we’ll also terminate any manager or leader found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences.
"Because our work cannot be successful with diverse voices, views and talents, we made a commitment to consider diverse slates of candidates for all open positions. And we’ll continue to add resources to ensure this occurs throughout the company. Over the past several years, we’ve made significant changes to address company culture, reflect more diversity within our leadership teams and create environments conducive to reporting any type of misconduct. We’ve amplified internal programs that encourage employees to report violations. We’ve reinforced channels for employees to voice concerns in confidential and safe ways without any fear of retaliation. We’re directing additional resources to our compliance and employee relations teams dedicated to investigating complaints.
"We pride ourselves on paying our employees competitively and fairly for equal or substantially similar work. We regularly review our compensation to ensure that we remain equitable in our approach. We take a variety of proactive steps to ensure that pay is driven by non-discriminatory factors such as performance, role and expertise. And we conduct extensive antidiscrimination trainings, including for all employees involved in the compensation process.
"Our workplace initiatives are crucial to our continued success and our leadership in this effort is my priority. Our workplace safety also remains our priority. And as we consider our return to work initiatives, we remain focused on providing the very best health care for our employees and their families.
"You have my unwavering commitment that we will continue to focus on serving our players and delivering the sustainable growth that you’ve come to expect and we will take all necessary actions to foster a culture that is supportive and welcoming for all of our employees. And we expect to be the very best example for other companies to emulate."
Activision Blizzard President and Chief Operating Officer Daniel Alegre follows Kotick's comments, stating:
"I’d like to underscore the points that Bobby made regarding the company’s commitment to ensuring the very best work environment. The leadership team and I will do our utmost to make sure that we’re always improving and building the kind of inclusive workplace that is essential to enable creativity and professional growth for all employees. There will be no tolerance at our company for harassment or unequal treatment of any kind. Our continued strong performance is because of the efforts of our incredibly talented people and we will make certain the workplace facilitates the best possible performance through constant improvement to our culture and unwavering conviction to our values."
During the Q&A section of the call, Matthew Cost, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, asks:
"We’ve seen a lot of headlines about the lawsuit and employee concerns. Can you talk more about what you’ve been doing and will do to address those issues? And then, just secondly, can you expand on any expected impact to productivity as you work through the situation and do you expect any impact on the pipeline?"
In response, Alegre states:
"As you heard from Bobby, our employees are truly our greatest asset. And we remain absolutely focused as a leadership team on providing a diverse and a safe environment for our teams and have taken a number of actions thus far. For instance, we’ve engaged an outside law firm to conduct a review of our policies and procedures with respect to our workplace and where employees can connect if they have experienced any issues whatsoever.
"We will also be adding staff to our compliance and employee relations teams that investigate employee concerns. This is to ensure that we are always considering also diverse candidates for all open positions. As a leader myself, I know how important having a diverse workforce can be for all aspects of our business. And this is critical. We will be evaluating and training also our people managers to make sure they are complying with our processes for handling employee concerns as well as taking the right actions. And we are proactively engaging with our employees to hear and respond to their feedback.
"For several years now, we have been focused on ensuring more diversity throughout the company, especially in our leadership roles and have dramatically increased the number of women and minorities in both the C-suite and in our business units. And our compensation practice is that women and men are paid equitably for equal work. As you heard, we’ve appointed Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra as the new co-leads at Blizzard and I am so glad that an original Blizzard founder, Allen Adham, who returned to the company a few years ago, continues to lead our engagement projects. We have a great leadership at Blizzard and are excited about the new direction the company will take.
"Also, we’re committed to an equitable and safe work environment. And that’s what’s important. As we evolve our company, you should expect further announcements from us going forward. To answer your question on productivity and pipeline, as you heard today, the pipeline is progressing well. In particular, some of the content in the pipeline has been in development for many years and is approaching the final stages of production. We’re monitoring the impact of recent events obviously as we discuss today, but based on what we see currently, we have a strong lineup planned for the second half of the year. And as we look into 2022, we’re currently planning for several new titles across PC, console and mobile from Blizzard, alongside more great experiences from Call of Duty, Candy and Warcraft."
Andrew Uerkwitz, an analyst at Jefferies, also asks about the lawsuit.
"It’s great to hear kind of the color around the policies and procedures and creating safe workplaces and whatnot. However, I’m sure morale is low. So I’m just curious how Mike and Jen plan to kind of rekindle the pride that Blizzard has been known for and kind of just rebuild that morale. But also kind of at the same time, as you kind of listen to everyone’s stories and experiences and make the necessary changes, how does that not affect production going forward?"
In response, Jennifer Oneal, Executive Vice President of Development and now co-leader of Activision Blizzard, states:
"First off, there’s nothing more important to me than our people. And I know Mike Ybarra, who is partnering with me to lead Blizzard, feels exactly the same. Since I joined the studio at the beginning of the year, I’ve had the privilege of working closer with the Diablo and Overwatch teams. I’m seeing great progress on Overwatch 2 and the multiple games in the Diablo Universe. I am constantly inspired by our talented teams, their creative vision, their commitment to putting gameplay first. Our people are passionate about our games. They understand our players and, in many cases, they have come from the player communities themselves and naturally are driven to serve them.
"And as Bobby and Daniel have mentioned, we are expanding these teams. We’re doubling down on our development recruiting as we expand the scope and vision of our franchises. When we come together, we make some of the best games in the industry. And we’re now seeing that energy apply to our culture, which is equally important. There’s a lot of work ahead of us, but the passion and productivity are already here. And when our people feel safe and supported, the rest is going to take care of itself."
J.Allen Brack, who has just left his position as Blizzard Entertainment President, then states:
"The passion that our developers have for innovation and creativity is what makes Blizzard great. It’s why we’ve been able to make so many great games for 30 years now. And this has always been the vision since the very beginning. I’m excited about our future about the things we’re creating together, about building the new culture and renewing that spirit. We’re tightlipped about it, but our new game pipeline has been in development for many years. And it’s greater than it’s ever been across our core franchises and mobile, new IP and new genres. I’m looking forward to our teams launching their already announced new games in the not-too-distant future and in due course announcing a few new ones that you have yet to hear about."
August 3 - Blizzard Entertainment President leaves company
Activision Blizzard President and Chief Operating Officer Daniel Alegre sends a letter to all employees announcing that Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack is "leaving the company to pursue new opportunities". Brack is one of the Activision Blizzard executives named in the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing's lawsuit. The letter reveals that, effective immediately, Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra have been appointed co-leaders of Blizzard.
"I am pleased to announce that, effective immediately, Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra have been appointed co-leaders of Blizzard. Jen and Mike will share responsibility for development and operational accountability for the company. Both are leaders of great character and integrity and are deeply committed to ensuring our workplace is the most inspired, welcoming environment for creative excellence and to upholding our highest game development standards.
"Many of us already know Mike and Jen and have experienced their leadership, their empathy and their unwavering sense of accountability:
"Jen is an 18-year company veteran and the former head of Vicarious Visions studio. As Executive Vice President of Development at Blizzard, she has been providing senior development leadership and support to the Diablo and Overwatch franchises.
"Mike has been in the technology and gaming industries for over 20 years, including 7 years as a senior executive at Microsoft’s XBOX division. Most recently Mike was Executive Vice President & General Manager of Platform and Technology at Blizzard overseeing Battle.net and our Development Services organizations.
"With their many years of industry experience and deep commitment to integrity and inclusivity, I am certain Jen and Mike will lead Blizzard with care, compassion and a dedication to excellence.
"With Jen and Mike assuming their new roles, J. Allen Brack is leaving the company to pursue new opportunities.
In addition to the publishing of the letter sent to employees, a post is published on the official Blizzard website which is addressed to "all members of the Blizzard Community". The full post reads as follows:
"To all members of the Blizzard Community,
"We want to let you know about an important leadership change at Blizzard Entertainment.
"Starting today, J. Allen Brack will be stepping down as the leader of the studio, and Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will co-lead Blizzard moving forward.
"Jen joined Blizzard in January as executive vice president of development, where she’s been providing senior development leadership and support to the Diablo and Overwatch franchises. Jen is the former head of Vicarious Visions (which is now part of Blizzard Entertainment).
"After many years at XBOX, Mike joined the company in 2019 as the executive vice president and general manager of platform and technology, where he’s been overseeing the evolution of Battle.net and our development services organization.
"Jen and Mike have more than three decades of gaming industry experience between them. Moving forward, they will share responsibilities over game development and company operations.
"Both leaders are deeply committed to all of our employees; to the work ahead to ensure Blizzard is the safest, most welcoming workplace possible for women, and people of any gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or background; to upholding and reinforcing our values; and to rebuilding your trust. With their many years of industry experience and deep commitment to integrity and inclusivity, Jen and Mike will lead Blizzard with care, compassion, and a dedication to excellence. You’ll hear more from Jen and Mike soon.
"The following is a message from J. Allen Brack:
'I am confident that Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will provide the leadership Blizzard needs to realize its full potential and will accelerate the pace of change. I anticipate they will do so with passion and enthusiasm and that they can be trusted to lead with the highest levels of integrity and commitment to the components of our culture that make Blizzard so special.'
"Finally, thank you all for being a part of the Blizzard community, and for your passion and determination for safety and equality for all."
July 30 - Further reports
Media publications, such as IGN and Vice, conduct interviews with sources claimed to be former and current employees, as well as accounts that corroborate the experience of sexual harassment from Activision Blizzard and its employees. These reports are outside the official lawsuit.
July 30 - Ubisoft open letter group issue "final response"
The Ubisoft group that organized the open letter in solidarity with Activision Blizzard staff responds to Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot's internal email from July 29. In a "final response" issued to GamesIndustry.biz, the group states that the "majority" of its demands were "sidelined" and "few of our points seem to have been addressed".
Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, the group states:
"We are aware that the company has made some improvements, and we are happy to hear that Yves and the leadership team agree that it is not enough. However, Ubisoft continues to protect and promote known offenders and their allies. We see management continuing to avoid this issue. It is also worth clarifying that an invitation to reach out to company management personally is not the same as having a collective seat at the table."
The group also tells the publication it "[looks] forward to a full response".
Another member of the group tells GamesIndustry.biz the following:
"Even though change has been happening and there seems to be a major restructuring happening internally, it's hypocritical of management to say that they're working on it while still harboring, protecting, permitting, and shuffling around known toxic and abusive people to other positions of power. Morale and trust is low.
"It's exhausting, frustrating and it counters the messaging they give us. We cannot be happy or satisfied with this hypocrisy. For the one person who signed there are countless others who simply were too terrified. Do better or keep losing good people."
July 29 - Ubisoft CEO responds to open letter
Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot responds to the open letter from Ubisoft staff from the day before (which has now been signed by over 1000 current and former employees). In an internal email to staff, obtained by Axios, Guillemot states: "We have heard clearly from this letter that not everyone is confident in the processes that have been put in place to manage misconduct reports". The full statement is included below.
Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot emailed all employees today about yesterday's open letter: "We have heard clearly from this letter that not everyone is confident in the processes that have been put in place to manage misconduct reports" pic.twitter.com/P6T22vS5cLJuly 29, 2021
July 29, 2021 - Shareholders investigate Activision Blizzard amidst lawsuit
In a note shared on BusinessWire, shareholder rights law firm Robbins LLP is investigating Activision Blizzard “to determine whether certain Activision officers and directors violated the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and breached their fiduciary duties to the company”.
Activision Blizzard shares have dropped by as much as 7% since the lawsuit was filed.
July 28, 2021- Kotaku’s “Cosby Suite” report
A Kotaku report shares further information on the “Cosby Suite” mentioned in the lawsuit. Based on photographs and Facebook posts obtained by the publication, the report claims that “people beyond Alex Afrasiabi were aware of the ‘Cosby Suite’ mentioned in the lawsuit”.
Kotaku reports that the “Cosby Suite” was the name given to Afrasiabi’s BlizzCon 2013 hotel room and that the suite was a “meeting place where many, including Afrasiabi, would pose with an actual portrait of Bill Cosby while smiling”.
According to Kotaku, the captions and comments on these social media images “are both written by and refer by name to other Blizzard employees”, with one ex-Blizzard source telling the publication that an HR representative is present in one of the hotel room images.
Another image obtained by Kotaku shows a screenshot from a 2013 group chat called the “BlizzCon Cosby Crew”.
“In it, former Blizzard designer David Kosak writes, “I am gathering the hot chixx for the Coz.”,” Kotaku reports. “‘Bring em,’ replies Afrasiabi. ‘You can’t marry ALL of them Alex,”’ Kosak writes. ‘I can, I’m middle eastern,’ responds Afrasiabi. Jesse McCree, currently a lead game designer at Blizzard, then writes, ‘You misspelled f***.’”
Kotaku reports that the images it obtained are part of “a series of screenshots depicting a wide array of Facebook posts by Afrasiabi, all under a 2013 photo album”.
When asked about the “Cosby Suite images” a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard tells Kotaku: “An employee brought these 2013 events to our attention in June 2020. We immediately conducted our own investigation and took corrective action. At the time of the report, we had already conducted a separate investigation of Alex Afrasiabi and terminated him for his misconduct in his treatment of other employees.”
Kotaku approached Afrasiabi for comment but did not receive a response. Riot Games’ Greg Street, one member of the group chat, released a statement.
I just shared this message with Riot and wanted to share with you all. pic.twitter.com/YRlawp7RokJuly 28, 2021
July 28, 2021- Ubisoft employees sign letter of support
Nearly 500 Ubisoft employees from 32 studios sign an open letter in support of the Activision Blizzard walkout.
The open letter was shared with Axios and establishes solidarity with Activision Blizzard employees while criticizing Ubisoft’s handling of the company’s own sexual misconduct allegations which were reported last year.
The letter calls for steps to be taken to prevent a “deeply ingrained culture of abusive behaviors within the industry”.
Here's the letter in full. It doesn't just stand with AB workers, doesn't just criticize Ubisoft bosses. It calls for industry-wide action and change, with publishers and developers getting involved. pic.twitter.com/WMNmRHjrq0July 28, 2021
In response to the letter, Ubisoft issued a statement to Axios saying:
"We have carefully read the letter signed by former and current Ubisoft employees," Ubisoft said. "We have a deep respect for the engagement of our teams who are pushing for changes within our industry. We want to be very clear that we take this letter—and the issues it raises—very seriously. Over the past year, we have committed to engaging with our employees to enact fundamental changes. Many of these changes have been driven by internal feedback and insights shared by our teams and we are grateful for this ongoing communication.
"Ubisoft has made significant and meaningful changes that seek to create a safe and inclusive work environment for all, and there is still more work to be done. We absolutely stand behind these efforts and the positive impact they have had on our company culture while also recognizing that we must continue to engage with our employees to ensure we are creating a workplace where they feel valued, supported, and most importantly, safe."
July 28, 2021 - Activision blizzard employees walk out and respond to CEO letter
Activision Blizzard employees walk out in protest of the lawsuit, with some protesting at the gates of the company’s Irvine headquarters. Employees' demands are shared on social media with #ActiBlizzWalkout, with trends worldwide.
The protest organizers also released a statement in response to CEO Bobby Kotick’s email from the previous day claiming it “fails to address critical elements”.
Activision Blizzard walkout organizers just released a statement in response to CEO Bobby Kotick's email to staff in which he described the company's response as "tone deaf" pic.twitter.com/64D7w8PhOLJuly 28, 2021
July 27, 2021 - World of Warcraft team to “remove references that are not appropriate”
The World of Warcraft team publishes a post on the World of Warcraft forums announcing it will be removing “references that are not appropriate” from the game world.
It’s unclear what these references are but some World of Warcraft players have been calling for the removal of references to ex-Senior Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi, who is named in the lawsuit.
Afrasiabi has multiple characters and items named after him in World of Warcraft, including a quest-giver called Field Marshal Afrasiabi. It’s unclear if the statement refers to these references at present. The full statement reads:
“It was clear from our team conversations that we wanted to put forth a statement that was representative of the World of Warcraft team’s sentiments. We asked all members of our team to send us their suggestions and feedback on how best to address the community and this is the result.
“The past days have been a time of reflection for the World of Warcraft team, spent in conversation and contemplation, full of sadness, pain, and anger, but also hope and resolve.
"As we heed the brave women who have come forward to share their experiences, we stand committed to taking the actions necessary to ensure we are providing an inclusive, welcoming, and safe environment both for our team and for our players in Azeroth.
"Those of us in leadership understand that it is not our place to judge when we have achieved our goals, but rather for our team and our community to let us know when we still have more to do.
“While we turn to our team for guidance in our internal work to protect marginalized groups and hold accountable those who threaten them, we also want to take immediate action in Azeroth to remove references that are not appropriate for our world.
"This work has been underway, and you will be seeing several such changes to both Shadowlands and WoW Classic in the coming days.
“We know that in order to rebuild trust, we must earn it with our actions in the weeks and months to come. But we go forward knowing that we share the same vision as our community about creating a place where people of all genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and backgrounds can thrive and proudly call home.”
July 27, 2021- Activision CEO apologizes for “tone deaf” response
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick issues a statement to employees apologizing for the company’s “tone deaf” response to the lawsuit and announces that WilmerHale has been hired to conduct a review into the company’s internal practices and policies. The full statement reads below:
“This has been a difficult and upsetting week.
“I want to recognize and thank all those who have come forward in the past and in recent days. I so appreciate your courage. Every voice matters - and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future.
“Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf.
“It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.
“Many of you have told us that active outreach comes from caring so deeply for the Company. That so many people have reached out and shared thoughts, suggestions, and highlighted opportunities for improvement is a powerful reflection of how you care for our communities of colleagues and players – and for each other. Ensuring that we have a safe and welcoming work environment is my highest priority. The leadership team has heard you loud and clear.
We are taking swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment. There is no place anywhere at our Company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind.
“We will do everything possible to make sure that together, we improve and build the kind of inclusive workplace that is essential to foster creativity and inspiration.
“I have asked the law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of our policies and procedures to ensure that we have and maintain best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace. This work will begin immediately. The WilmerHale team will be led by Stephanie Avakian, who is a member of the management team at WilmerHale and was most recently the Director of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement.
We encourage anyone with an experience you believe violates our policies or in any way made you uncomfortable in the workplace to use any of our many existing channels for reporting or to reach out to Stephanie. She and her team at WilmerHale will be available to speak with you on a confidential basis and can be reached at ATVI@wilmerhale.com or 202-247-2725. Your outreach will be kept confidential. Of course, NO retaliation will be tolerated.
“We are committed to long-lasting change. Effective immediately, we will be taking the following actions:
“Employee Support. We will continue to investigate each and every claim and will not hesitate to take decisive action. To strengthen our capabilities in this area we are adding additional senior staff and other resources to both the Compliance team and the Employee Relations team.
Listening Sessions. We know many of you have inspired ideas on how to improve our culture. We will be creating safe spaces, moderated by third parties, for you to speak out and share areas for improvement.
“Personnel Changes. We are immediately evaluating managers and leaders across the Company. Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated.
“Hiring Practices. Earlier this year I sent an email requiring all hiring managers to ensure they have diverse candidate slates for all open positions. We will be adding compliance resources to ensure that our hiring managers are in fact adhering to this directive.
“In-game Changes. We have heard the input from employee and player communities that some of our in-game content is inappropriate. We are removing that content.
“Your well-being remains my priority and I will spare no company resource ensuring that our company has the most welcoming, comfortable, and safe culture possible.
“You have my unwavering commitment that we will improve our company together, and we will be the most inspiring, inclusive entertainment company in the world.”
July 27, 2021- Activision Blizzard employees organize a walkout
In support of the lawsuit, Activision Blizzard employees announce they’re conducting a walkout (both physical and virtual) on July 28. The organizers released a full statement to Polygon:
“Given last week’s statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as the subsequent internal statement from Frances Townsend, and the many stories shared by current and former employees of Activision Blizzard since, we believe that our values as employees are not being accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership.
“As current Activision Blizzard employees, we are holding a walkout to call on the executive leadership team to work with us on the following demands, in order to improve conditions for employees at the company, especially women, and in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups.
“1. An end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, current and future. Arbitration clauses protect abusers and limit the ability of victims to seek restitution.
“2. The adoption of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and promotion policies designed to improve representation among employees at all levels, agreed upon by employees in a company-wide Diversity, Equity & Inclusion organization. Current practices have led to women, in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups that are vulnerable to gender discrimination not being hired fairly for new roles when compared to men.
“3. Publication of data on relative compensation (including equity grants and profit sharing), promotion rates, and salary ranges for employees of all genders and ethnicities at the company. Current practices have led to aforementioned groups not being paid or promoted fairly.
“4. Empower a company-wide Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion task force to hire a third party to audit ABK’s reporting structure, HR department, and executive staff. It is imperative to identify how current systems have failed to prevent employee harassment, and to propose new solutions to address these issues.”
July 26, 2021- Activision Blizzard employees sign an open letter supporting lawsuit
Bloomberg reports that more than 2,000 current and former Activision Blizzard employees have signed an open letter calling the company’s responses to the lawsuit “abhorrent and insulting”.
The full letter reads as follows:
“To the Leaders of Activision Blizzard,
“We, the undersigned, agree that the statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as the subsequent internal statement from Frances Townsend, are abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for. To put it clearly and unequivocally, our values as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership.
“We believe these statements have damaged our ongoing quest for equality inside and outside of our industry. Categorizing the claims that have been made as “distorted, and in many cases false” creates a company atmosphere that disbelieves victims. It also casts doubt on our organizations’ ability to hold abusers accountable for their actions and foster a safe environment for victims to come forward in the future. These statements make it clear that our leadership is not putting our values first. Immediate corrections are needed from the highest level of our organization.
“Our company executives have claimed that actions will be taken to protect us, but in the face of legal action -- and the troubling official responses that followed -- we no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests. To claim this is a “truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit,” while seeing so many current and former employees speak out about their own experiences regarding harassment and abuse, is simply unacceptable.
“We call for official statements that recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault. We call on Frances Townsend to stand by her word to step down as Executive Sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network as a result of the damaging nature of her statement. We call on the executive leadership team to work with us on new and meaningful efforts that ensure employees -- as well as our community -- have a safe place to speak out and come forward.
“We stand with all our friends, teammates, and colleagues, as well as the members of our dedicated community, who have experienced mistreatment or harassment of any kind. We will not be silenced, we will not stand aside, and we will not give up until the company we love is a workplace we can all feel proud to be a part of again. We will be the change.”
July 25, 2021 - Work on WoW stops
World of Warcraft Senior System Designer Jeff Hamilton tweets that production on World of Warcraft has stopped as a result of the Activision Blizzard lawsuit.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t have all the answers. I can tell you, almost no work is being done on World of Warcraft right now while this obscenity plays out. And that benefits nobody - not the players, not the developers, not the shareholders.July 25, 2021
July 23 - Frances Townsend steps down as the executive sponsor of the Activision-Blizzard-King Women’s Network
Activision Blizzard Chief Compliance Officer, Frances Townsend, holds a listening session via Zoom with women at Blizzard. An Activision Blizzard spokesperson confirms to The Washington Post that, on the same day as the call, Townsend steps down as executive sponsor of the Activision-Blizzard-King Women’s Network.
July 22, 2021- Blizzard Activision President emails staff
Blizzard President J. Allen Brack sends out an email to Activision Blizzard staff addressing the allegations from the lawsuit. It is obtained by Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier who publishes it on July 23.
Blizzard president J. Allen Brack sent out an email to staff last night addressing the allegations from this week's explosive lawsuit, calling them "extremely troubling" and saying that he'd be "meeting with many of you to answer questions and discuss how we can move forward." pic.twitter.com/NsMV6CNdTEJuly 23, 2021
July 22, 2021- Blizzard Activision executive emails staff
Activision Blizzard executive Frances Townsend also sends out an internal email to Activision Blizzard staff, which is again obtained by Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier and published on July 23.
Activision Blizzard executive Fran Townsend, who was the Homeland Security Advisor to George W. Bush from 2004-2007 and joined Activision in March, sent out a very different kind of email that has some Blizzard employees fuming. pic.twitter.com/BxGeMTuRYFJuly 23, 2021
July 21, 2021- Bloomberg report and Activision Blizzard statement
Bloomberg Law reports that Activision Blizzard is being sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Activision Blizzard releases a statement on the lawsuit to Bloomberg Law and other publications. The statement reads as follows:
“We value diversity and strive to foster a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone. There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind. We take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue.
“The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past. We have been extremely cooperative with the DFEH throughout their investigation, including providing them with extensive data and ample documentation, but they refused to inform us what issues they perceived.
"They were required by law to adequately investigate and to have good faith discussions with us to better understand and to resolve any claims or concerns before going to litigation, but they failed to do so. Instead, they rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court.
"We are sickened by the reprehensible conduct of the DFEH to drag into the complaint the tragic suicide of an employee whose passing has no bearing whatsoever on this case and with no regard for her grieving family.
"While we find this behavior to be disgraceful and unprofessional, it is, unfortunately, an example of how they have conducted themselves throughout the course of their investigation. It is this type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.
“The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today. Over the past several years and continuing since the initial investigation started, we’ve made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams.
"We’ve amplified internal programs and channels for employees to report violations, including the “ASK List” with a confidential integrity hotline, and introduced an Employee Relations team dedicated to investigating employee concerns.
"We have strengthened our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and combined our Employee Networks at a global level, to provide additional support. Employees must also undergo regular anti-harassment training and have done so for many years.
“We put tremendous effort in creating fair and rewarding compensation packages and policies that reflect our culture and business, and we strive to pay all employees fairly for equal or substantially similar work.
"We take a variety of proactive steps to ensure that pay is driven by non-discriminatory factors. For example, we reward and compensate employees based on their performance, and we conduct extensive anti-discrimination trainings including for those who are part of the compensation process.
“We are confident in our ability to demonstrate our practices as an equal opportunity employer that fosters a supportive, diverse, and inclusive workplace for our people, and we are committed to continuing this effort in the years to come.
"It is a shame that the DFEH did not want to engage with us on what they thought they were seeing in their investigation.”
July 20, 2021 - Lawsuit filed
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing files a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard Inc following a two-year investigation into the company’s alleged discrimination against female employees.
The suit claims that Activision Blizzard fosters a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ culture”, with female employees at the company subjected to constant sexual harassment and retaliation, as well as lower pay and lower opportunity levels than their male peers, forcing “many women” to leave the company.
The suit describes so-called “cube crawls” in which male employees drink “copious amounts of alcohol” and then proceed to “crawl” through various office cubicles, allegedly often engaging in “inappropriate behavior” towards female employees.
The suit also claims that male employees often come into work hungover and play video games, delegating their work to female employees while engaging in banter about their sexual encounters, talking openly about female bodies and joking about rape.
The suit claims that this “frat boy culture” is a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women”, with female Activision Blizzard employees continually having to fend off sexual advancements and comments made by their co-workers and superiors and being groped at the aforementioned “cube crawls”, citing high-ranking executives and creators allegedly engage in this sexual harassment without repercussion.
The suit uses the example of a female employee who committed suicide on a business trip with a male colleague, following intense sexual harassment at the company - which included having nude photos of her passed around at a company party.
According to the suit, Activision Blizzard did not take steps to prevent harassment, discrimination or retaliation. The suit claims that female employees were discouraged from reporting issues to HR as human resource personnel were allegedly close to the perpetrators and so complaints were dismissed and not kept confidential.
As a result of these complaints, the suit claims that female employees faced retaliation from perpetrators that included being transferred to different units, deprived from work projects and selected for layoffs.
In another example of sexual harassment, the suit claims that Alex Afrasiabi, former Senior Creative Director at World of Warcraft, was permitted to engage in “blatant sexual harassment” with no repercussions.
Afrasiabi allegedly made unwanted advances to female employees, tried to kiss them and would tell them he wanted to marry them. The suit also claims that Afrasiabi was “so known to engage in harassment of females” that his suite at BlizzCon was dubbed the “Cosby Suite” after the disgraced Bill Cosby (whose conviction of sexual assault has since been overturned).
Other allegations in the suit include women being denied promotion in case they became pregnant, derogatory name-calling, being criticized for collecting children from child care, and being kicked out of lactation rooms so male colleagues could have meetings.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is demanding a jury trial and is seeking an injunction forcing compliance with workplace protections, as well as unpaid wages, pay adjustments, back pay, and lost wages and benefits for female employees.