Activision Blizzard's initial response to allegations of workplace harrassment and discrimination was disappointing enough that thousands of current and former employees signed an open letter condemning it then hundreds staged a walkout in July. With several legal cases against the Warcraft and Call Of Duty owners underway, they've now admitted they haven't done enough. Yesterday, Along with laying out their next steps, they confirmed that over 20 people have "exited" Activision Blizzard in connection with reports against them.
On Tuesday, Activision Blizzard published an e-mail already sent to employees from Fran Townsend, the company's executive vice president for corporate affairs.
"We are working tirelessly to ensure that, moving forward, this is a place where people are not only heard, but empowered," she claimed. But she admitted, "in listening to feedback over the past several months it is clear to me that we need to do more, and with a renewed urgency." Yeah no kidding.
She also gave an update on how they're doing clearing house. She says they've seen an increase in reports of bad behaviour, ranging "from years ago to the present", and are investigating. Some have already shown results. She confirmed, "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."
Townsend also insisted, "There is no place for harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in this company."
"Exited" is a precisely vague choice of word. While it's known that people including former Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack, an HR executive, and the former director of Diablo 4 have parted ways with the company in recent months, it's not publicly clear who left why. We don't know whether particular people fell on their sword, or were being investigated or not, or were fired, or were encouraged to leave, or... we don't know. For legal and privacy reasons, they'll likely never say.
As this continues, they're expanding their teams to deal with reports. Townsend says they've added three full-time positions in recent months, and plan to add another 19 full-time positions to their wider Ethics & Compliance Team. She says they plan to be more transparent about their investigative processes and outcomes too. Though what they plan to do isn't necessarily the same as what employees want.
An employee group named ABetterABK formed with a list of demands including publication of pay data, adopting new hiring and promotion policies approved by employees, and an end to forced arbitration. Their demands have not been met and they have tried to force one point by joining with a union to file charges of unfair labour practices, seeking to end forced arbitration and claiming the company had threatened employees exercising their right to self-organise.
"We will work hard every day to earn your trust and confidence," Townsend's e-mail concluded. "Together, let's ensure that we always have a safe, inclusive, and ethical workplace that makes us all proud."
I think I'd still be mighty cautious with trust. When California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing went after Activision with allegations of sexual harrassment and discrimination in July, following a two-year investigation, they also accused the company of not taking complaints seriously or keeping them confidential. The DFEH alleged this led to retaliation against female employees including losing opportunities to work on projects, being transferred unwillingly, and being selected for layoffs. Maybe they are being earnest, but apparently problems existed for a long time and change is only coming following legal action and public scrutiny. Once the spotlight moves off them, how different will they actually be?
Legal action from state and government authorities could come with the threat of further punishment, keeping them on the straight and narrow. A proposed settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would include regular reports and checks on progress, as well as creating a fund to pay affected workers. But while some believe the settlement is too lenient, that's become snared in a possible conflict of interest with the DFEH case which could threaten them both. Activision Blizzard want the DFEH lawsuit paused until the matter is resolved, possibly even disqualifying the entire group of laywers on the case.