Activision Blizzard finds 'no evidence' of widespread misconduct at Activision Blizzard

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick
(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

Activision Blizzard says that an investigation conducted by Activision Blizzard has found no evidence of systemic gender-based misconduct at Activision Blizzard, or that Activision Blizzard management "intentionally ignored or attempted to downplay" incidents of harassment at Activision Blizzard  when they occurred. 

The conclusion was shared by the company's board of directors in a June 16 filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. It begins by stating that "the allegations in media and legal filings about our company were as distressing to us as they were to all of you," and obliquely acknowledges that there have been some instances of workplace misconduct. The filing also says, however, that individual experience does not necessarily reflect the larger picture, and points at "progressively stronger, more decisive and coordinated steps" it has taken, including leadership changes, to address shortcomings and better reflect the diversity of its audience.

And yet, the company says that "contrary to many of the allegations," there is "no evidence to suggest that Activision Blizzard senior executives ever intentionally ignored or attempted to downplay the instances of gender harassment that occurred and were reported." 

The filing also states that media criticism of the company's executives was found to be "without merit," and that "while there are some substantiated instances of gender harassment," there's no evidence that harassment, discrimination, or retaliation were ever "a systemic issue" at Activision Blizzard.

Parallel to this investigation, Activision Blizzard said it had former US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman Gilbert Casellas review data on "investigated reports of gender harassment" in the US between September 1, 2016 and December 31, 2021. Based on his review, Casellas said that there is no widespread or systemic harassment at Activision Blizzard, and claims that the level of misconduct experienced by employees is "comparatively low" for a company of that size.

From there, the filing lists individual changes Activision Blizzard has made in recent years to improve conditions for employees, such as increasing the size of its Ethics and Compliance team, investing in more training, improving transparency on diversity and pay, and implementing new drug and alcohol policies for company events. But then it swerves into a frankly bizarre bit of self-defense, pointing the finger at "the media" as the real cause of its problems.

"It must be said that the Company has been subject to an unrelenting barrage of media criticism that attempts to paint the entire Company (and many innocent employees) with the stain of a very small portion of our employee population who engaged in bad behavior and were disciplined for it," the filing says. 

"Much of this originated with the highly inflammatory, made-for-press allegations of the DFEH. As our outside advisors made clear, the DFEH was not assigned to investigate harassment in its agreement with the EEOC, nor did it in fact complete an investigation into issues of harassment at Activision Blizzard."

California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard in July 2021 following a two-year investigation that found a widespread "frat boy" culture at the company. The suit stated that "women were subject to numerous sexual comments and advances, groping and unwanted physical touching, and other forms of harassment," and that complaints to the company's human resources department and executive team "were treated in a perfunctory and dismissive manner and not kept confidential." The DFEH subsequently attempted to intervene in Activision Blizzard's $18 million settlement with the EEOC, saying it would "irreparably harm" its own lawsuit against the company. A judge rejected the DFEH claim and approved the EEOC settlement in March; the DFEH lawsuit is scheduled to begin in February 2023

The DFEH lawsuit sparked deeper investigations into Activision Blizzard that led to more specific allegations of misconduct, including that CEO Bobby Kotick had directly intervened in at least one case to shield a high-level employee from an accusation of sexual harassment. The SOC Investment Group, an institutional shareholder, called for Kotick's removal in November 2021 for failing to address "many incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and gender discrimination at Activision Blizzard," and in May 2022 various agencies in New York City filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming that Kotick entered into the acquisition deal with Microsoft in part to "escape liability" for overseeing the company during the reported incidents of abuse. 

In January, we spoke to three women who formerly worked at Blizzard, one of whom said it was "impossible" not to see misconduct at the studio. All three also said that the problems were exacerbated by a lack of trust in the company's HR department. Some employees have said that the situation at Activision Blizzard has improved in recent months, but progress continues to run up against the inertia of the past: Jen Oneal became the first woman to lead Blizzard after replacing J. Allen Brack in 2021, for instance, but she stepped down just three months after taking the job. Oneal expressed optimism for Blizzard's future, saying that she was "inspired by the passion of everyone here, working towards meaningful, lasting change with their whole hearts," but her departure reportedly inflicted a serious toll on company morale.

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In a strongly worded response to the filing, the ABK Workers Alliance employee advocacy group said in a lengthy Twitter thread that the company's statement "continues to be as tone deaf and hand-waving as every other 'effort' thus far."

"While yes, the company has been more diverse and supportive, it's because of the passionate individuals on the ground level that care about fostering change, not the leadership," the group tweeted. "Also, do not forget the company's silence on issues of abortion, bodily autonomy, transgender rights and the list goes on and on. Each time something makes the news, employees call upon leadership to make a statement to affirm their own words. Silence is almost always the answer."

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.