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Activision Blizzard employees walk out over report CEO knew of rape allegation

CEO Bobby Kotick is alleged to have known about a sexual assault allegation as early as 2018 and failed to inform the board, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Image: Activision Blizzard E3
AN Activision Blizzard sign at the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles on June 14, 2017.Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Activision Blizzard employees walked out of work for a second time this year on Tuesday, demanding that the company replace its CEO, Bobby Kotick, over reports that he failed to report allegations of sexual misconduct to the board.

Employees created a Twitter account saying they have instituted their own “Zero Tolerance Policy,” explaining that their walkout is part of continued calls for a review of sexual harassment allegations by a third party of their choosing.

Activision Blizzard said in a statement that it supports its employees’ “right to express their opinions and concerns in a safe and respectful manner, without fear of retaliation.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Kotick is alleged to have known about sexual assault allegations at one of the company’s studios as early as 2018 and failed to inform the board. The newspaper cited anonymous sources with knowledge of the board in its reporting, as well as memos, emails and regulatory requests.

According to The Journal, Kotick was emailed in 2018 by an attorney for a female at Sledgehammer Games who alleged that she was “raped in 2016 and 2017 by her male supervisor after she had been pressured to consume too much alcohol in the office and at work events.” 

The employee had informed human resources, but no action was taken, the Journal report said, referring to the contents of the email. It is unclear whether The Journal obtained and reviewed the email or whether it was described by a source. 

An out-of-court settlement was reached with the woman, who was not identified, months after Kotick was emailed, but the board had not been aware, sources familiar with the situation told The Journal.

NBC News has not independently verified the allegations made in The Journal on Tuesday. The woman’s attorney, Harmeet Dhillon, who is alleged to have sent Kotick the email, said Tuesday that she was not at liberty to discuss the matter. 

The company said it was “disappointed” in the report, which it said was a “misleading view” of Activision Blizzard and Kotick.

“The WSJ ignores important changes underway to make this the industry’s most welcoming and inclusive workplace and it fails to account for the efforts of thousands of employees who work hard every day to live up to their — and our — values,” Activision Blizzard said in a statement on its website.

Image: Bobby Kotick
Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision Blizzard, at the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, on July 10, 2019.Drew Angerer / Getty Images file

“The constant desire to be better has always set this company apart. Which is why, at Mr. Kotick’s direction, we have made significant improvements, including a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate conduct,” the statement said.

The company also posted a public transcript of a video message from Kotick to employees in response to the Wall Street Journal report. He told employees that it was an “inaccurate” view of him and that the company will move forward with a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate behavior.

“Over the last few years our industry has had an uncomfortable spotlight that’s been illuminating opportunities for us to change. And we must all, including me, embrace this need for change, so we can bring our very best selves to the very best place to work,” Kotick said.

Activision Blizzard’s board released a statement Tuesday saying its board “remains confident that Bobby Kotick appropriately addressed workplace issues brought to his attention.”

“Under Bobby Kotick’s leadership the Company is already implementing industry leading changes including a zero tolerance harassment policy, a dedication to achieving significant increases to the percentages of women and non-binary people in our workforce and significant internal and external investments to accelerate opportunities for diverse talent,” the statement said.

Employees staged another walkout in July after the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the company.

The lawsuit alleged that Activision Blizzard has a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ culture where female employees are sexually harassed and paid and promoted less than male counterparts.” A two-year investigation by the state agency found that female employees were subjected to constant sexual harassment, according to the agency’s statement at the time. 

Women make up about 20 percent of the company’s 9,500-employee workforce, according to the lawsuit filing.

The lawsuit is pending in Los Angeles County Superior Court, with a case management conference scheduled for Dec. 9, according to court records. 

Employees who walked out in July, after the state lawsuit, said they had four main demands: end mandatory arbitration clauses in employee contracts; adopt policies to improve diversity, equity and inclusion; publish compensation data, promotion rates and salary ranges for employees of all genders and ethnicities; and hire a third party to audit the company’s structure, human resources department and executives.

Kotick apologized to employees at the time and said he had asked the law firm WilmerHale to review the company’s policies and procedures to “ensure that we have and maintain best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace.” He encouraged employees to report any workplace policy violations they had experienced. 

He also announced last month that the company had made some changes in line with employees’ demands. Activision Blizzard ended forced arbitration for cases involving sexual harassment and discrimination, and it said it will raise the numbers of women and nonbinary people it employs by 50 percent.