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Activision Blizzard CEO apologizes for "tone deaf" response to lawsuit, vows to fix workplace wrongs

Activision Blizzard sued for sexual harassment
Activision Blizzard sued for sexual harassmen... 01:20

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has promised "swift action" to fix the so-called "frat boy" workplace culture that California regulators described in a recent lawsuit against the video game developer. 

The lawsuit, filed July 20 by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), accuses Activision Blizzard of gender pay discrimination and of letting sexual harassment complaints go unresolved.

In the lawsuit, DFEH accuses the top executives at Activision Blizzard, all White males, of allowing other male employees to routinely torment female co-workers. The suit follows a two-year DFEH investigation into Activision Blizzard's workplace culture that found evidence of female employees being subjected to sexual harassment including groping and unwanted advances, as well as pay inequities for women throughout the company, state officials have said.

Employees and gamers expressed outrage this week at company leaders' public response to the lawsuit, which they described in an open letter as "abhorrent and insulting." 

The Santa Monica-based video game maker said in a statement last week that the toxic work environment described in the lawsuit "is not the Blizzard workplace of today." However, in an email sent to employees late Tuesday, Kotick suggested that the statement was perhaps insensitive.

"Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf," the email stated. 

Apology to employees

In the email, Kotick apologized to employees who complained about Activision Blizzard workplace culture in the past, admitting that company leaders "did not provide the right empathy and understanding." 

Activision Blizzard has hired a law firm to review company policies regarding respectful workplaces, according to the email. Members of upper management are evaluating managers across Activision Blizzard and plan to fire anyone who impedes the company's integrity. 

"We are taking swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment," Kotick wrote to employees. "The leadership team has heard you loud and clear."

Kotick's pledge comes just hours before employees planned a walkout in protest of corporate leaders' lack of accountability over sexual harassment claims. Most employees have been working remotely since the coronavirus pandemic began, but some workers told The Washington Post that at least 50 of them planned to meet in front of Activision Blizzard's office. Employees who participate in the walkout are eligible for paid time off, according to a company email obtained by the Post.  

During their walkout Wednesday, employees released a statement in response to Kotick's email, saying that, while appreciated, the apology does not address core issues they're concerned about, particularly greater transparency around who is paid what salary and why.

"Not a one-time event"

"Today's walkout will demonstrate that this is not a one-time event that our leaders can ignore," they said. "This is the beginning of an enduring movement in favor of better labor conditions for all employees, especially women, in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people and other marginalized groups."

Kotick's email marks the second time a top company official has addressed employees since the lawsuit surfaced. 

Blizzard President J. Allen Brack first sent an email to employees in response to the lawsuit on Friday, saying that "the behavior detailed in the allegations is completely unacceptable," calling it "extremely troubling." 

More than 2,000 current and former employees have signed the open letter to company management so far. 

Activision Blizzard is best known for creating Call of Duty, Overwatch and World of Warcraft. The company has about 9,500 employees worldwide, 20% of which are women, according to court documents. Despite harassment complaints made by women employees to the company's human resources department, officials never took meaningful action to improve conditions, the lawsuit alleges. 

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