Activision Blizzard Loses 20 Employees Due to Harassment Investigations, Files Stay Against Discrimination Lawsuit

by in General | Oct, 20th 2021

The recent legal tribulations Activision Blizzard faces this year have taken a new development, as their recent agreement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) saw the creators of Overwatch and Call of Duty pay out $18 million to parties affected by workplace harassment at Activision Blizzard and in financial support of new, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment measures and infrastructure at Activision Blizzard. As investigations continue, it seems that Activision Blizzard leadership is taking the initiative on many of its promises to create a better workplace culture while also separating themselves from the controversy by any means possible, including through petitions to halt ongoing lawsuits against the company.

Activision Blizzard’s New Leaf: Employee Departure and New Workplace Initiatives

On Tuesday, 20 Activision Blizzard employees left the company as leadership conducted its investigation into instances of harassment and discrimination, finding specific parties responsible of such conduct and letting them go as a result, according to a report by The Financial Times. The individuals facing termination or disciplinary action were not members of Activision Blizzard’s leadership, but supervisors and developers employed by the company.

The termination of these employees’ contracts with Activision Blizzard can be linked to a new letter written by Activision Blizzard’s chief compliance officer, Frances Townsend, the same executive who initially responded to the allegations of workplace harassment and discrimination as “factually incorrect, old and out of context” and called the resulting lawsuit “meritless and irresponsible.”

In her new letter to Activision Blizzard employees, Frances Townsend remarks that company leadership “must earn our team’s confidence.” Odd, considering that she initially disregarded her team’s initial remarks.

The letter outlines Activision Blizzard’s progress on their goals to combat the culture and history of harassment and discrimination at Actvision Blizzard, including zero tolerance punitive measures against those violating company policy, being transparent in decisions and actions taken to combat workplace harassment and discrimination, and material support of resources contributing to improved training and work culture, as well as investment into people who can guide the company’s ethical vision.

In respect to the human resources and solutions Activision Blizzard looks to enable, Townsend’s letter notes the promotion of Jen Brewer to senior vice president of Ethics and Compliance at Activision Blizzard, as well as providing the Way to Play Heroes, employee volunteers helping guide Activision Blizzard’s ethical culture, an “additional vacation day a quarter to recognize their contributions to this very important work.” Note that the emotional and ethical labor these employees volunteer for the benefit of their fellow co-workers merits additional vacation days according to Frances Townsend. 

Activision Blizzard will also dedicate salaries to three new full-time positions to the Ethics and Compliance team in order to handle reports and investigations. The Ethics and Compliance team will also see nineteen new roles open up to handle ongoing investigations, reports, data analysis, and communication efforts to ensure that Activision Blizzard employees have the resources available to them to address workplace harassment concerns. The Employee Relations team will also see increased utilization.

These initiatives, along with tripled investment into training resources and increased transparency in company decision-making and actions are meant to create “meaningful and positive change” according to Townsend. However, we can’t be certain whether the transparency that Activision Blizzard employees demand will be the same transparency Activision Blizzard provides, as the results of investigations will not be made known completely to Activision Blizzard employees in order to protect the privacy of involved parties and the reputation of Activision Blizzard, which the company desperately wishes to repair.

Activision Blizzard Requests Stay on DFEH Discrimination Lawsuit

At the same time of Activision Blizzard publicly announcing their new measures for combating workplace harassment and discrimination, the company has requested that the DFEH discrimination lawsuit be stayed due to conflict of interest from DFEH lawyers who attempted to intervene in the settlement between Activision Blizzard and the EEOC, as reported by The Verge.

Activision Blizzard contends that “the DFEH opposes the federal Consent Decree and is taking positions directly adverse to the EEOC. The DFEH went so far as to seek to intervene in the federal proceedings, explicitly asking the federal court to reject the EEOC’s legal position in that case and deny employees the ability to decide for themselves whether to see financial compensation under the Consent Decree.”

The EEOC also contacted DFEH attorneys asking them to remove themselves from the agreement between the EEOC and Activision Blizzard, to which the DFEH denied to do so and would continue intervention against the wishes of the EEOC. 

Activision Blizzard also asserts that DFEH attorneys may have potentially violated the California Rule of Professional Conduct due to the fact that the DFEH’s counsel approached Activision Blizzard employees to encourage them to not seek private representation in regards to the agreement between the EEOC and Activision Blizzard. Activision Blizzard’s stay application also notes that attorneys working for the DFEH also represented the EEOC prior, representing a conflict of interest that could undermine the DFEH’s case against Activision Blizzard.  

Activision Blizzard’s ex parte stay application could completely dismantled the DFEH’s harassment lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, as both Activision Blizzard and the EEOC are in agreement in regards to the involvement of DFEH’s attorneys attempting to disrupt their agreement and alleged ethical violations in relation to the California Rule of Professional Conduct. If the court grants Activision Blizzard’s stay application, this could see the legal proceedings of the case disregarded, allowing Activision Blizzard to avoid legal proceedings and opt for a settlement that wouldn’t see justice for employees represented in the DFEH’s harassment lawsuit.

What’s important to note about this lawsuit is that the agreement between Activision Blizzard and the EEOC is, essentially, an agreement between the company and a federal entity, which may have been demanding resolutions that differ from the demands of the DFEH harassment lawsuit. Depending on the differences in what the DFEH is requesting in their lawsuit and what the EEOC gained in their agreement, this could see Activision Blizzard employees who were represented in the DFEH lawsuit left with little to no resolution or little considerable impact on Activision Blizzard’s workplace culture. 

The details regarding these two cases are difficult to follow, but it suits Activision Blizzard to try and find resolutions that are the least impactful to their bottom line and require little adjustment as to not disturb their ability to conduct business. The DFEH will have to find a solution to rectify the actions of its attorneys and assert that their case has relevance and requires resolution separate to the agreement between Activision Blizzard and the EEOC. With Call of Duty Vanguard’s release looming over the horizon, chances are Activision Blizzard may want to resolve its cases so that it can reallocate its leadership’s attention to future releases. 


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