A group of Activision Blizzard employees calling itself the ABK Workers Alliance has rejected the company's decision to employ the law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of the company's policies and procedures. In a letter shared with IGN, the group told CEO Bobby Kotick that his delayed response to employees following a lawsuit alleging widespread sexual harassment and discrimination at the company "did not meaningfully address" employee demands, and that WinterHale's pre-existing relationship with Activision creates a conflict of interest that means it cannot conduct an impartial review.
Activision Blizzard was sued in mid-July by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing over allegations of discrimination, sexual harassment, and a widespread "frat boy" culture at the company. The company's initial response to the claims sparked widespread employee outrage and a walkout that was widely supported by other industry employees.
A week after the lawsuit was filed, Kotick acknowledged that response was "tone deaf (opens in new tab)" and pledged a review of policies and procedures that would be carried out by WilmerHale. But employees are not satisfied with that choice of interlocutor.
"Activision Blizzard has already been a client of WilmerHale, who you used to dispute the Diverse Candidate Search Policy proposed by the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund and UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust earlier in 2021," the letter states. "[Activision Blizzard chief compliance officer] Frances Townsend is known to have relationships with multiple partners at WilmerHale, including former FBI Director Robert Mueller."
The letter also claims that WilmerHale "has a history of discouraging workers' rights and collective action," pointing out that among the services listed on its website is advice on "union awareness and avoidance." The WilmerHale executive leading the investigation, Stephanie Avakian, formerly the director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement, faces similar criticism as a defender of corporate interests rather than workers' rights: The February 2021 announcement of her return to WilmerHale following a stint with the SEC says specifically that she will "lead one of the nation’s premier groups of lawyers in counseling and defending financial institutions, public and private companies, hedge funds, accounting firms, investment advisors, boards, corporate executives, and individuals facing regulatory and criminal investigations and litigation with the government."
The letter calls on Activision Blizzard executives to "fully address" the demands made by employees last week, and also lists three employee initiatives that are now in the works:
- Worker-to-Worker Mentorship: We are building a mentorship program where workers can seek career advice, support, and sponsorship from a network of colleagues in a safe external channel outside company communication networks.
- Open Listening Sessions: We will host listening sessions that will be recorded and disseminated across the organization to facilitate ongoing conversation, education, and emotional support for employees.
- Community Meetings: We will facilitate monthly employee meetings, in a secure external channel, to discuss our concerns, desires, and progress toward achieving our goals. All current ABK employees are welcome to participate in these conversations.
"As these actions show, we love our studios and care deeply for our colleagues," the letter concludes. "We share your expressed unwavering commitment to improving our company together. We are doing what we can, and we call on you to do what we cannot."
The lawsuit against Activision Blizzard has already forced at least one major change at the company: Earlier today, former World of Warcraft executive producer J. Allen Brack was ousted as president of Blizzard, less than three years after taking over the role from co-founder Mike Morhaime. But it's not just employees who are applying the pressure: Mobile communications company T-Mobile has apparently ended its sponsorship of both the Overwatch League and the Call of Duty League. That sort of action could push the company to take steps to address its workplace failings in ways that employee complaints alone will not.
Activision Blizzard's second quarter financial results will be released later today.