Bobby Kotick Calls Blizzard Lawsuit Response “Tone Deaf”
Blizzard’s response to the sexual assault lawsuit was reprehensible, and now CEO Bobby Kotick has his own. In the letter, he called Activision-Blizzard’s letters to the employees “tone deaf”. The actual letter can be read on the Activision Investor site, and it would be nice to take this letter at face value. However, words are just words, and what we’d really like to see is action. To Bobby Kotick’s credit, he doesn’t deny that there is a problem. In his letter, he made several statements to changes that will be immediately implemented, including having an outside law firm look at their policies and procedures.
“I So Appreciate Your Courage. Every Voice Matters” – Bobby Kotick:
J. Allen Brack’s response to the allegations and lawsuit was not what employees or the public needed to hear. He called them “distorted, and in many cases false,” which led to an outcry from the company. Over 2,000 employees filed a petition to management to take the allegations seriously. That petition also requested “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.” So with that in mind, Bobby Kotick made his own personal statement:
“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.”
It’s pretty clear that there are some problems with Activision-Blizzard’s policies. Or if not the policies, the people enforcing them. So in Bobby Kotick’s lawsuit response letter, he talked about having an outside law firm to improve the overall workplace:
“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.”
He promised that the company is taking swift action to be the “compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment.” We can only hope that is truly the case. Today, Blizzard employees are also staging a walkout in protest. Blizzard is a company that desperately needs change, and the employees who have suffered deserve to be heard and deserve justice. Bobby Kotick promised that five immediate changes are being implemented:
- 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.
The employees had their own list of demands though. One of the biggest was “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.”
The real question is that whether or not actual change will come to Blizzard. While Bobby Kotick’s letter is nice, but it’s important to remember he’s made his own errors. In particular, the discussion of his salary, while employees were being let go. Words are fine, but that’s all they are. Actual change needs to happen in Activision-Blizzard. The lawsuit response of Bobby Kotick is a nice one to read, but we’ll wait and see if there’s a real change.
This law firm has ties to Fran Townsend, Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Chief Compliance Officer for Activision Blizzard. You may remember her saying that these claims were “untrue” at best. This law firm crossed paths with Townsend in her stint with Homeland Security, and Activision has been a client since at least January 2021. That means the people handling the external review of the policies and allegations have a vested interest in Activision Blizzard. There is of course a chance of impartiality, but it doesn’t sound that way at this particular moment.
At least something has happened, even if it’s perhaps the least important of the changes. World of Warcraft has already begun to remove references in-game to Alex Afrasiabi, who is one of the many named for harassing women at Blizzard. While this is a nice gesture, it would be better to start removing the people who have been committing these acts.
We will continue to update you as this story unfolds.