Activision Blizzard employees to stage walkout following leadership reaction to harassment suit

The strike will take place Wednesday, July 28.

Employees of Activision Blizzard have announced a walkout strike scheduled for Wednesday, July 28. The announcement follows the filing of a lawsuit last week by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging discrimination and sexual harassment against female employees of the Call of Duty and World of Warcraft publisher.

The strike, announced in an email to several media outlets including Axios, Bloomberg, and others, comes after more than 2,000 Activision Blizzard employees signed an open letter decrying the response to the lawsuit by company leadership. In the wake of the filing, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack and Activision Blizzard vice president of corporate affairs Fran Townsend sent internal emails with decidedly different messaging. The conflicting communications has led to a larger outcry that company leadership is disorganized, complicit, and desperately seeking to cover up its past discrepancies.

Following the published email from current Activision Blizzard leadership, a handful of former executives have made public statements regarding the lawsuit. Among them is Blizzard co-founder Mike Morhaime, who said “ It feels like everything I thought I stood for has been washed away” in a TwitLonger post over the weekend.

Tomorrow’s walkout is being organized by a group largely consisting of Blizzard employees, which is where the bulk of the suit’s allegations are focused. The strike will take place at Blizzard’s headquarters in Irvine, California from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. PST. There will also be a virtual component taking place from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST.

As part of the strike, employees have presented a list of demands, including the dropping of mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, new recruiting and hiring practices, publication of compensation data, and the hiring of a third-party audit of company leadership.

Reaction to the strike has been largely positive across social media, with many industry professionals--both on the development side and in the media--voicing their support for the employees and pledging to boycott Activision Blizzard games. The strike has also reignited talk of industry unionization, which many feel is long overdue.

As part of the walkout, organizers have asked that non-Activision Blizzard members of the gaming community who would like to show support use the social hashtag #ActiBlizzWalkout and consider donating to games-adjacent charities such as Black Girls Code, Futures Without Violence, and RAINN.

Update, July 28, 2021

Following the conflicting leadership response to the suit, and the announcement that Activision Blizzard employees will engage in a walkout today, July 28, company CEO Bobby Kotick released the following statement, which GameDaily received via email:

This has been a difficult and upsetting week.

I want to recognize and thank all those who have come forward in the past and in recent days. I so appreciate your courage. Every voice matters - and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future.

Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf.

It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.

Many of you have told us that active outreach comes from caring so deeply for the Company. That so many people have reached out and shared thoughts, suggestions, and highlighted opportunities for improvement is a powerful reflection of how you care for our communities of colleagues and players – and for each other. Ensuring that we have a safe and welcoming work environment is my highest priority. The leadership team has heard you loud and clear.

We are taking swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment. There is no place anywhere at our Company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind.

We will do everything possible to make sure that together, we improve and build the kind of inclusive workplace that is essential to foster creativity and inspiration.

I have asked the law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of our policies and procedures to ensure that we have and maintain best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace. This work will begin immediately. The WilmerHale team will be led by Stephanie Avakian, who is a member of the management team at WilmerHale and was most recently the Director of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement.

We encourage anyone with an experience you believe violates our policies or in any way made you uncomfortable in the workplace to use any of our many existing channels for reporting or to reach out to Stephanie. She and her team at WilmerHale will be available to speak with you on a confidential basis and can be reached at ATVI@wilmerhale.com or 202-247-2725. Your outreach will be kept confidential. Of course, NO retaliation will be tolerated.

We are committed to long-lasting change. Effective immediately, we will be taking the following actions:

  1. Employee Support. We will continue to investigate each and every claim and will not hesitate to take decisive action. To strengthen our capabilities in this area we are adding additional senior staff and other resources to both the Compliance team and the Employee Relations team.
  2. Listening Sessions. We know many of you have inspired ideas on how to improve our culture. We will be creating safe spaces, moderated by third parties, for you to speak out and share areas for improvement.
  3. Personnel Changes. We are immediately evaluating managers and leaders across the Company. Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated.
  4. Hiring Practices. Earlier this year I sent an email requiring all hiring managers to ensure they have diverse candidate slates for all open positions. We will be adding compliance resources to ensure that our hiring managers are in fact adhering to this directive.
  5. In-game Changes. We have heard the input from employee and player communities that some of our in-game content is inappropriate. We are removing that content.

Your well-being remains my priority and I will spare no company resource ensuring that our company has the most welcoming, comfortable, and safe culture possible.

You have my unwavering commitment that we will improve our company together, and we will be the most inspiring, inclusive entertainment company in the world.

Yours sincerely,

Bobby

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Sam, the Editor-in-Chief of GameDaily.biz, is a former freelance game reporter. He's been seen at IGN, PCGamesN, PCGamer, Unwinnable, and many more. When not writing about games, he is most likely taking care of his two dogs or pretending to know a lot about artisan coffee. Get in touch with Sam by emailing him at  sdesatoff@rektglobal.com or follow him on Twitter.