Activision Blizzard says 20 employees ‘exited’ as part of harassment investigations

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Activision Blizzard says more than 20 employees have “exited” the company, and more than 20 other employees have been reprimanded following complaints about misconduct. The Financial Times reported that the company sent a letter to staff on Tuesday with the details, and chief compliance officer Frances Townsend told the outlet that the list included game developers and “a few” supervisors but no members of the board. Activision Blizzard later posted the letter online.

The letter outlines a company attempt to “earn our team’s confidence that, when they speak up, they will be heard” — following a series of lawsuits accusing Activision Blizzard employees of systematic discrimination and gender-based harassment. It says the disciplinary actions followed an increase in reports about incidents that ranged from “years ago to the present.” After investigation, “in connection with various resolved reports, more than 20 individuals have exited Activision Blizzard and more than 20 individuals faced other types of disciplinary action.”

In addition to the terminations and reprimands, Activision Blizzard says it will add 19 full-time employees to its ethics and compliance team (on top of three roles it’s already added) and triple its investment in training resources, echoing public promises to upgrade its compliance with workplace protection laws.

Townsend, a former Homeland Security advisor under the George W. Bush administration, apparently told FT that an investigation had found misconduct across several parts of the company. She said employees were terminated if they exhibited “patterns” of bad behavior that couldn’t be addressed with training. “It doesn’t matter what your rank is, what your job is. If you’ve committed some sort of misconduct or you’re a leader who has tolerated a culture that is not consistent with our values, we’re going to take action,” she told FT.

Activision Blizzard’s workplace problems became widely public in July, when California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) sued it for fostering a culture of “constant sexual harassment” that included groping, derogatory comments, and other conduct that supervisors allegedly knew of or “encouraged.” Hundreds of employees staged a walkout to protest its working conditions, and multiple executives — including Blizzard president J. Allen Brack — subsequently left the company.

Activision Blizzard settled a complaint from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last month, but its legal issues remain ongoing. The company is currently seeking a stay in the DFEH case, accusing the agency of ethics violations that compromise its complaint. California’s employment fairness watchdog has, in turn, objected to the EEOC settlement, which it says could allow for the destruction of evidence in its own case.

Townsend apparently acknowledged to FT that Activision Blizzard hasn’t met all the demands of protesting employees — who have requested, among other things, an end to mandatory arbitration for harassment complaints. But she said that further changes would be coming, saying that Activision Blizzard’s board and CEO Bobby Kotick had given her a “blank check” for reform. “We are committed to making meaningful and positive change, and this is just the start,” the letter reads. “We will be sharing additional updates in the coming weeks and months.”

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