The Wall Street Journal just published a new report that alleges that not only was Activision Blizzard boss Bobby Kotick aware of the many sexual harassment and assault claims at his company, he abused employees as well.
Warning: This post describes multiple instances of sexual assault, harassment and the protection of workplace abusers. Reader discretion is advised.
The report contributes to an already damning picture of the company, in the wake of a lawsuit that was filed earlier this year that alleged sexual discrimination, harassment and a “frat boy” culture across it and its many studios. Many have wondered to what extent Kotick has been complicit in this culture given his decades long leadership role at the company.
Kotick has made repeated attempts to express disgust and showing support for corrective measures, even going as far as to reaching an $18 million settlement with federal regulators. Last October, Kotick even agreed to a massive pay cut that reduces his compensation to a base salary of $62,500 until the company meets newly established goals for gender equality, a hollow gesture given he’s been overpaid for years. The allegations in the Wall Street Journal negate the sincerity of these actions.
After a reorganization of leadership at Blizzard, Jen Oneal was appointed as the first female co-head of Blizzard, sharing leadership responsibilities with Mike Ybarra. She left earler this month, and while her departure came with a civil press statement, the WSJ report says she wrote an email before she left in which she expressed misgivings about the company’s ability to change.
The email noted that she was paid less than Ybarra despite sharing rank, and felt “tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated” during her time at the company. She also described a 2007 party where women danced on stripper poles and the DJ encouraged female attendees to get drunk.
Multiple instances were described in which Kotick had knowledge of alleged abuses but worked to protect the company and those accused.
Within months of receiving an email from a lawyer, Activision reached an out-of-court settlement with a former employee who alleged that she had been raped in 2016 and 2017 by her male supervisor after being pressured to consume too much alcohol at work events.
While the incidents were reported to HR and other supervisors, no action was taken, at least not until the lawyer threatened a lawsuit on the employee’s behalf. The settlement was made without informing or consulting the board of directors at Activision, says the report.
Which isn’t to say that there weren’t any abuses of his own to cover up. The report also alleges that Bobby Kotick threatened to kill an assistant over voicemail in 2006. An Activision spokesperson claims the threat was made in jest.
In 2007, Kotick was sued by the flight attendant on a private jet he co-owned, claiming that the pilot sexually harassed her and after she complained to the other owner, Kotick fired her. In a separate action related to legal fees in the case, an arbitrator Kotick told the flight attendant and her attorneys, “I’m going to destroy you.”
The report also includes new allegations against others previously at the company, adding to the many previously revealed.
Ben Kilgore, former chief technology officer at Blizzard was fired after an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, but thanked and praised publicly. Javier Panameno, a former Sledgehammer Games supervisor was accused of rape and harassment but did not fire him until a year later when lawyers became involved.
Dan Bunting was a co-head of Treyarch. He was accused of sexually harassing a female coworker in 2017, and a 2019 internal investigation recommended he be fired, but Kotick personally ensured that he was protected from this fate, and given counseling instead. After the Wall Street Journal began asking about the allegations, Bunting left the company suddenly.
In the weeks following the California lawsuit, Activision Blizzard leadership struggled to maintain a consistent message to the public regarding the allegations of its abuses and its toxic culture. But the one statement that got chided was a letter attributed to Frances Townsend which rejected such a portrait of the company as “distorted and untue,” as well as “truly meritless and irresponsible.”
That statement was so widely disliked that Bobby Kotick would later call it “tone-deaf” but according to the WSJ report, that statement was drafted by Kotick himself. Effectively speaking, the former Bush administration employee and torture apologist — yes these are things Townsend are -was thrown under the bus twice by Kotick.