According to a bombshell new report, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick knew of the numerous sexual misconduct allegations levelled against the company throughout the years long before the State of California filed their recent lawsuit against them, even supposedly going as far as to threaten to have his own harassment accuser killed.
Reporting on information gleaned from speaking to “people familiar with the matter” and reviewing “memos, emails and regulatory requests, and interviews with former employees and others familiar with the company,” The Wall Street Journal’s Kirsten Grind, Ben Fritz, and Sarah E. Needleman revealed on November 16th that these sources “show that he knew about allegations of employee misconduct in many parts of the company.”
“He didn’t inform the board of directors about everything he knew, the interviews and documents show, even after regulators began investigating the incidents in 2018,” wrote the trio. “Some departing employees who were accused of misconduct were praised on the way out, while their co-workers were asked to remain silent about the matters.”
The Wall Street Journal’s article also touched on Jennifer Oneal, the co-head of Activision Blizzard who herself recently left the company, noting that just a month after being appointed to the position, “she 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,” detailed Grind, Fritz, and Needleman. “‘I have been tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against,’ wrote Ms. Oneal, who is Asian-American and gay.”
The report then turned to present numerous examples of Kotick’s alleged failings throughout the years.
They included personally intervening in the firing of Treyarch (Call of Duty) co-head Dan Bunting after it was recommended that he be let go following an investigation in sexual harassment allegations made against him, choosing not to inform the board that Sledgehammer Games supervisor Javier Panameno had been accused of rape, and giving Sledgehammer Games employee Eduard Roehrich two-weeks paid leave and allowed to remain at the company after he was accused of misconduct.
However, Kotick’s transgressions apparently extend past merely protecting employees accused of harassment to misconduct of his own, as the WSJ’s investigation uncovered that “Over the years, 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.”
“In 2006, one of his assistants complained that he had harassed her, including by threatening in a voice mail to have her killed, according to people familiar with the matter,” the piece continued. “He settled the matter out of court, the people said.”
Asked for comment, an Activision spokeswoman told the WSJ, “Mr. Kotick quickly apologized 16 years ago for the obviously hyperbolic and inappropriate voice mail, and he deeply regrets the exaggeration and tone in his voice mail to this day.”
In a 2007 incident, Kotick was sued by a flight attendant on his private jet who alleged that the Activision Blizzard head fired her after she complained to the plane’s co-owner that she had been harassed by the pilot, allegedly telling her and her legal team, “I’m going to destroy you,” – a claim which a spokesman for Kotick denied.
The matter was settled out of court in 2008, with Kotick paying the attendant $200,000, as, according to “a spokesman for Mr. Kotick,” the CEO “couldn’t have fired her in retaliation for complaining because she never complained directly to him.”
In light of the publication of the WSJ’s report, over 100 Activision Blizzard employees staged a walkout on November 17th, demanding Kotick’s resignation.
Ahead of the protest, Kotick told the company in an internal video message, “There’s an article today that paints an inaccurate and misleading view of our company, of me personally, and my leadership.”
“Anyone who doubts my conviction to be the most welcoming, inclusive workplace doesn’t really appreciate how important this is to me,” he added.
In a separate statement provided to The Washington Post, Activision Blizzard told the news outlet that they were “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.”
Unfortunately, these words were unsurprisingly not enough to deter the tides, as shortly after the walkout took place, a group of shareholders called for Kotick’s resignation
“After the new revelations, it’s clear that the current leadership repeatedly failed to uphold a safe workplace — a basic function of their job,” Strategic Organizing Center Investment Group executive director Dieter Waizenegger said in an interview. “Activision Blizzard needs a new CEO, board chair and lead independent director with the expertise, skill set and conviction to truly change the company’s culture. We need to really have a reset button on the board.”
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