Activision CEO Bobby Kotick was aware of the sexual misconduct, reports in the company.
Recently, Activision Blizzard has found itself under hot waters as multiple regulatory investigations are initiated over the complaints of sexual misconduct. Bobby Kotick, the longtime CEO of Activision, showed remorse and apologized for ‘not doing enough for the company’s employees during his tenure.
But independent investigation shows that the ‘frat boy culture’ was rampant during Kotick’s era and he was well aware of it. Moreover, he seems guilty of shoving horrendous incidents under the carpet during his tenure. Kotick also made it clear a while back that he wasn’t aware of the sexual mistreatment of female employees. But the investigation shows otherwise.
Several concerned people that are associated with the events and are part of the company see Kotick differently. In addition, the documents, emails, memos, interviews, and regulatory requests also put Kotick’s stance in question.
In July 2018, Activision received a troubling email from a former employee in Sledgehammer Games. The lawyer alleged in the email that her client was raped in 2016 and 2017 by a male supervisor. Despite reporting the incident to Sledgehammer Studio HR and senior executives, no action was taken.
Soon after the threat of a lawsuit, the executives involved in the incident reached out for an out-of-court settlement. The whole incident was put behind the curtains by Kotick as he didn’t inform Activision’s board of directors about it.
Moreover, employees who were directly involved in harassment were given a farewell as well as praise when they left the company. And to make matter worse, the co-workers were instructed to remain silent on the matter.
Soon after, Bobby Kotick was subpoenaed in a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation on how Activision handled sexual misconduct in the company. Another investigation followed when the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision.
The lawsuit alleged that the company deliberately ignored complaints about sexual harassment and discrimination from female employees. The allegations were denied by Kotick and he termed it as, “a distorted and untrue picture of our company.”
The board of directors of the company was blindsided by the California State lawsuit allegations. Not only that, a suicide of a female employee after a picture of her vagina went viral at the company’s party was also kept hidden from the board according to the people associated with the board.
On the contrary, Kotick is adamant that his transparent and has kept things transparent with the board of directors.
“I am very committed to making sure we have the most welcoming, most inclusive workplace in the industry,” Kotick said. Moreover, Activision’s spokeswoman Helaine Klasky further added in a written statement, “Mr. Kotick would not have been informed of every report of misconduct at every Activision Blizzard company, nor would he reasonably be expected to have been updated on all personnel issues.”
She admitted that the company sometimes “fell short of ensuring that all of our employees’ behavior was consistent with our values and our expectations.”
Activision’s board also had its say on the matter and sided with Kotick in a sent which was sent by Ms. Klasky. The statement read that the board, “was informed at all times with respect to the status of regulatory matters.”
After the California lawsuit, hundreds of reports were received from employees of Santa Monica-based Activision which employs more than 10,000 people. The studio is responsible for hit franchise games like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Candy Crush. Moreover, it has made Activision’s market value $54 billion from $14 billion.
There were at least 500 reports from current and former employees of the studio alleging sexual assault, harassment, pay disparities, bullying, and other such issues. The company came with a reply that it is investigating the reports by involving teams inside as well as outside the company.
Another glaring example exposes the brazen deceit of the company in the shape of Jennifer O’Neal. O’Neal is one of the company’s long-term employees and was named Blizzard’s co-head in August. Though the decision at first seemed a good one of making a woman lead Activision’s business unit in the first one, O’Neal couldn’t continue.
O’Neal sent an email to Activision’s legal team where she declared a lack of faith in the company’s leadership to turn the unhealthy culture around. She said, “it was clear that the company would never prioritize our people the right way.” Ms. O’Neal also highlighted how she was tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against for being Asian-American and gay.
She was also subjected to sexual harassment in the early phase of her career in the company. Ms. O’Neal also shares the party culture of the company under Kotick in 2007 where partially naked women danced on poles. Moreover, the DJ at the party encouraged women to get drunk so that their male counterparts could have a more fun time. In the end, Ms. O’Neal also left the company in a decision that was ‘best for her and her family.’
In 2017, Dan Bunting, co-head of Activision Treyarch studio was also accused by an employee of sexual harassment. In 2019, the incident was internally investigated and it was recommended that Bunting be fired.
However, Kotick intervened and stopped the termination on account of Bunting’s several successful projects for the company. Another supervisor at the company, Javier Panameno has been involved in sexual harassment as well as assaults on a fellow female employee.
Another female employee, Ashley Mark, reported sexual harassment to HR done by Mr. Roehrich. Roehrich was given two weeks of paid leave by HR as a punishment and kept the matter confidential.
The list just goes on with no solution in sight; in 2020, 30 female employees from Activision’s esports division wrote an email to their unit leaders and reported discrimination, unwanted touching, catcalling, and exclusion from important meetings.
The email was also in the notice of Kotick, the best the company did was to provide training and counseling.
The main culprit in the esports division case was Mr. Kilgore, who was later praised for his many contributions and was given a warm farewell. The female employee group shared their sentiments as “the feeling of defeat when an abuser exits the company with positive public farewells.”
Later in the California case, the email was regarded by Kotick as “factually incorrect, old and out of context stories.”
The fact that Bobby Kotick knew about sexual misconduct for so many years is appalling. The inaction and indifference against sexual misconduct, discrimination, and other workplace ill-treatment have led to the institutionalization of the problem in Activision.
Bobby Kotick has promised multiple times that he is moving mountains to change the ‘frat boy culture’ at the company but the implementation is questionable as it is nowhere to be seen.
There are reports that Bobby Kotick told his colleagues that if things didn’t improve in his presence then he might step down in the coming days.