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Activision Blizzard CEO Apologizes for 'Tone Deaf' Response to Harassment Lawsuit

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has apologized for the company's initial response to a lawsuit over its alleged sexist workplace.
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has apologized for the company's initial response to a lawsuit over its alleged sexist workplace. / Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick published a letter to employees Wednesday apologizing for the company's public response to a lawsuit alleging ubiquitous sexual harassment and discrimination at the company.

The letter, published via Activision's investor relations website, describes the company's initial response "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," Kotick wrote. "I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Blizzard last week for harboring a male-dominated, sexist culture in which employees were frequently the targets of sexual harassment, passed over for promotion, and underpaid relative to their male colleagues.

Blizzard initially called the suit an example of "irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats," saying the content of the suit was distorted at best and false at worst. More than 2,000 employees have since signed a letter to management condemning that statement.

Now, Kotick says he has asked law firm WilmerHale to review Activision Blizzard's policies and procedures around respectful and inclusive work conditions. Former director of the US SEC's Division of Enforcement Stephanie Avakian, now a member of management at WilmerHale, will lead the review, which Kotick says will start "immediately."

"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."

Kotick also committed to several steps aimed at improving conditions. The company will add senior staff and other resources to its Compliance and Employee Relations teams and host listening sessions moderated by third parties for employees to share areas for improvement.

All the managers and leaders across Activision Blizzard will be evaluated, and any employees who "impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated." That list could include employees as powerful as Blizzard president J. Allen Brack, one of many named in the lawsuit who knew about sexist behavior and failed to sufficiently address it.

Furthermore, the company will add compliance resources to ensure hiring managers are looking at diverse candidate slates for open positions.

Kotick also said Activision Blizzard would remove in-game content described as "inappropriate." He did not provide a strict definition for what would count as inappropriate. The World of Warcraft team made a similar pledge Tuesday, likely planning to remove characters and items in the game named for Alex Afrasiabi, a former employee named as a serial harasser in the lawsuit.

It's worth noting Kotick's letter comes after an $8 drop in Activision Blizzard's stock price, from around $90 per share to a low of $82. Kotick himself owns 4 million shares, amounting to a $32 million loss in value. Since his letter's publication, the stock price has risen back up to around $86 per share.

Blizzard employees plan to protest management's response to the suit with a walkout of the company's Irvine, California offices to take place Wednesday.

UPDATE 7/28/21 12:29 p.m. ET: Organizers at Blizzard have responded to Kotick's apology, criticizing it for failing to address several of their concerns, including the end of forced arbitration for employees, worker participation in hiring and promotion policies, greater pay transparency and employee selection of the party auditing Activision Blizzard's human resources.

"Today's walkout will demonstrate that this is not a one-time event that our leaders can ignore," wrote the organizers. "We will not return to silence; we will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point."

Kotick's full letter can be read 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Yours sincerely,

Bobby